Photo courtesy of USA today
Much to the chagrin of some Packer fans Ted Thompson prefers to build his team almost exclusively through the draft. This team building philosophy means that young players will fill prominent roles throughout the course of a season. This year is no different as Blake Martinez, Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry and possibly Kyler Fackrell will get a chance to contribute on defense this season.
Blake Martinez has already been named a starter at inside linebacker to start the 2016 season and will be an important part of a unit that looks to be a possible top ten defense in the NFL. Martinez ran 4.71 (4.62 at his pro day) forty yard dash at the combine and had a vertical leap of 28.5 inches. When asked about Martinez Packers director of football operations Eliot Wolf said “I love everything about him. Athletic, productive, played big-time football he can blitz, he can cover, he can change directions. I don’t see coverage as an issue at all.” The Packers coaching staff sure hopes Wolf is right as Martinez will need to be able to cover athletic tight ends and fast running backs out of the backfield. The scouting report on Martinez is that he is a downhill tackler who does a good job of maintaining his gap responsibility while showing creativity slipping blocks and is considered to be a solid open field tackler. He was able to lead the Pac-12 in tackling two years in a row. Despite his tackling numbers some scouts question his overall athletic ability. According to his NFL.com scouting report Martinez only has borderline speed and will need quicker hands to separate from NFL lineman. The report also mentions his lack of lateral quickness and that he has “little margin for error with his angles.” Despite his athletic limitations the Packers clearly have confidence in Martinez as he will see a lot of playing time considering they only kept three inside linebackers. Also, they seem to have great confidence in his ability to understand the defensive scheme as he will be wearing the headset for the defense in the opening game against Jacksonville. The Packers are putting a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of a rookie. If he can hold up in coverage and continue to pile up production in the run game like he did in college Martinez could be a solid three down linebacker for the Packers this season. His ability to hold down the fort at middle linebacker would also have the added benefit of keeping Matthews firmly entrenched on the outside.
Kenny Clark sat out the final two preseason games with a back injury but seems to be on track to get some playing time in week 1 against Jacksonville. Clark won’t have quite the same amount of pressure on him to perform as fellow rookie Martinez but he will still be expected to play a significant role on defense, especially with Mike Pennel being suspended the first four games. Kenny Clark is a very young guy and won’t turn 21 until October so scouts believe that his frame will fill out more as he grows older. Clark has a low center of gravity and will benefit from his time as a high school wrestler. Some of Clarks other strengths are a high football I.Q. and a strong bull rush when being blocked by a single lineman. He is also given high marks for his ability to read and react to screens. The Packers will be looking for Clark to fill more of a run stuffing role as opposed to a pass rushing one. He was drafted in hopes that he could replace B.J. Raji but from the small sample size of the preseason he doesn’t seem to be quite up to that task as of right now. One of the knocks on Clark was his arm length, he allowed four broken tackles in his last season at UCLA, a number which is high for an interior lineman. Like many rookies Clark will take time to adjust to the NFL game but if he can be a part of the defensive line rotation while helping stop the run on first and second down he could become a key contributor on defense this season.
Dean Lowry was a fourth round draft pick this last April and according to the Packers latest depth chart he will join fellow fourth round pick Blake Martinez in the starting lineup come Sunday. With Clark’s back issues and Pennel’s suspension Lowry has defaulted into the starting defensive end spot against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Lowry’s scouting report ticks off all the clichéd positives of a guy who tries hard but is not an outstanding athlete or particularly skilled in one area. His frame is ideal for a 3-4 defensive end and he comes off the snap with burst and good pad level. He is a classic “high motor” guy who works hard and will give the utmost effort on every play. He is a tackle “finisher” who does not let ball carriers out of his grasp once he has a hold. Some of his more glaring weaknesses come when opposing teams decide to throw the ball. Despite his ideal frame he has small hands and short arms which makes it difficult for him to get off blockers. Lowry doesn’t have much bull rush power and doesn’t have the speed to get around blockers on the edge. Lowry was projected as a guy who is adequate in the run game and a player who would be a solid NFL back up. Despite this projection Lowry is going to get a chance to showcase his abilities as a starter until more depth returns to the defensive line. The Packers don’t need Lowry to be a pass rush monster as they will look to generate their pass rush from their outside linebackers. If Lowry is to be a major factor on the Packers defense this season he will get the first month of the season to prove his worth.
Kyler Fackrell the Packers third round draft pick will likely have to make his impact on special teams unless the Packers are hit with a slew of injuries to their outside linebacking core. Fackrell’s positives are his length and athleticism. Scouts like his long arms and tackle radius along with his ability to punch and control the point of attack with those long arms. He also has the ability to convert speed to power and has a good up the field burst for his first three steps. Lastly, scouts mentioned an ability to cover in space and an ability to slip under tackle’s blocks. His weaknesses include the fact he is very reliant on his speed and lacks a counter move when rushing the passer. He also plays with a high center of gravity which makes him easier to block. Fackrell has a lot of competition for playing time at outside linebacker and would have to leap over high draft picks and star players to receive significant playing time. If Fackrell can make himself a valuable special team’s player and develop the rest of his game he has a chance to be a starter later in his career.