One of the biggest question marks going into the upcoming season is the Packers defense. How will Joe Barry bring the best out of an incredibly talented group of players? How will he improve a unit that has wilted in some of the biggest moments? One major way that he can accomplish that is getting better production from the inside linebacker position.
In the Packers new defense, high value is placed on attacking inside linebackers that slice through the line to blow up the run and cause havoc in the passing game. While admittedly the Packers are lacking proven playmakers at the position, Kamal Martin and Kris Barnes are exactly the type of players that could take a huge jump in 2021.
Martin’s college tape oozes with athletic playmaking. It’s easy to see what the Packers saw in him when they drafted him. Reports out of camp in 2020 was that he was the best linebacker there. Injuries slowed him early, but eventually he carved out a role in the defense. Even in a limited role in 2020, there were specific plays during games that only a select few linebackers in the NFL could make. Against Houston, Martin was flying all over the field and was a force to be reckoned with. He has the speed and size to hold up against tight ends in the pass game as well as the run. He can absolutely develop into a three down linebacker. In 2021, he could take a huge jump towards closing the hole in the middle of the Green Bay D.
Barry has another option to marshal the defense in Kris Barnes. Barnes was the cinderella story of 2020, rising from undrafted free agent to starting in the middle of the defense week 1. Barnes showed impressive burst and instincts in 2020, logging 80 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 FF and a sack in 13 games. He also played through injury and would have had a couple of interceptions in the playoffs, barring a massive club on his hand protecting a broken hand and showed surprising effective play against the pass. If he can master another playbook, he could be the glue that holds the defense together.
Together, development from both Barnes and Martin could be the 1-2 punch that Barry needs to unlock the potential in this defense. Coupled with the recent veteran addition, De’Vondre Campbell, the Packers have a stable of athletic chasing linebackers to deploy in 2021. All three can create chaos for opposing defenses. If they can hold up against the pass, more two ILB sets could be what launches the defense to new heights in 2021.
Jordan is a lifelong Packer fan who grew up in Idaho and now lives in Seattle, Washington. You can follow him on twitter at @jordantwolf.