Analysis: Time for Packers to consider moving on from Kyler Fackrell
There’s an old personnel aphorism about missing on a high draft pick: There's no shame in making a mistake, but don’t compound it by keeping it.
It was one of Ron Wolf’s favorites. The Pro Football Hall of Famer and former Green Bay Packers general manager used to say that all the time.
In today’s NFL, Bill Belichick is the king of moving on. In 2011, for instance, the New England Patriots coach drafted cornerback Ras-I Dowling with the first pick of the second round (No. 33 overall). He cut Dowling at the end of training camp of his third season.
Others have lived by it as well. Just three weeks ago, Tampa Bay Buccaneers GM Jason Licht, who worked for Belichick for four years earlier in his front-office career, cut kicker Roberto Aguayo. Licht had traded up in the second round of the 2016 draft for Arguayo but released him halfway through the kicker’s second camp.
As Packers GM Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy pare their roster to 53 this weekend, they have to consider a similar move. Thompson spent a third-round pick in ’16 on outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell, and the GM now has to seriously consider releasing the second-year pro.
Cutting a third-round pick this early would be a first for Thompson, but not by a lot. In 2014, Thompson drafted defensive lineman Khyri Thornton in the third round and then cut him in October of 2015. (Thompson also cut 2005 second-rounder Terrence Murphy after one season, but that was because of a career-ending neck injury).
Fackrell has to be in play in the cut to 53 because he hasn’t improved from his rookie year, and the Packers might need that roster spot for another position. Maybe for Taysom Hill if they don’t want to expose him to the waiver wire, or maybe for a sixth defensive lineman, a ninth offensive lineman or a fourth inside linebacker.
With the recent signing of Ahmad Brooks, Fackrell is battling Reggie Gilbert for the No. 5 spot at outside linebacker (assuming rookie Vince Biegel remains on the physically unable to perform list). After four preseason games, he’s losing that battle.
Fackrell has good straight-line speed for such a tall player — he’s 6-5 and ran a 4.72-second 40 coming out of college. When he’s left unblocked on the backside of running plays he can chase down the play, and on pass-rush twists he gets a running start and has a chance.
But he still has great difficulty getting off blocks. When a tackle gets both hands on him, he’s done. He’s a speed rusher, but he’s not sudden enough off the snap to win that way. He hasn’t shown any counter moves because his first move doesn’t give him advantage to counter. He doesn’t have Clay Matthews’ athleticism to flip his hips and bend low to the ground to get around the edge, and he doesn’t have Nick Perry’s power as a starting point.
Jayrone Elliott hasn’t had a good camp rushing, either, but he’s a better side-to-side athlete even if Fackrell is a little faster.
Fackrell still has a chance to stick because of his special teams play. His size and speed are a big asset on kickoff and punt coverage.
However, Gilbert, who spent last season on the Packers’ practice squad, has shown more at outside linebacker. Gilbert’s motor runs hotter, and he plays with some power. As camp has gone on, he has played better.
When a team likes a player enough to draft him in the third round, it obviously wants to give him a chance to develop. But Fackrell was overaged when the Packers picked him — he turns 26 in November — so he might not have the upside Thompson thought. With some hard roster decisions to get to 53 this weekend, cutting Fackrell has to be on the table.
It’s down to Hill
One of the Packers’ trickiest decisions is whether to keep Hill on their final 53, or try to get him on their practice squad at the risk of another team claiming him on waivers.
Hill showed real ability as the preseason went on. Any team that watches the tape of his 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Aaron Peck against the Rams has to be impressed. Hill scrambled to his left and put the ball on the money throwing across his body on the run.
Hill (124.8 rating in the preseason) has enough size (6-2, 221 pounds) and arm talent, and an abundance of athleticism (4.46 40, 38 ½-inch vertical). He has blown past Joe Callahan for the No. 3 job and might be good enough to challenge Brett Hundley for the No. 2 next year.
The knocks on Hill are age and injury history. He’s a 27-year-old rookie, and four of his five seasons at BYU were cut short by injuries.
So the question is, would another team think a 27-year-old rookie is worth developing on its 53? The NFL game is so quarterback driven, you can’t rule it out. The Packers kept Callahan on their initial 53 last season, and Hill is the better prospect. Hill has the upside to replace Hundley as the No. 2 in a year or two, and save the Packers a later-round pick on a quarterback.
So the guess here is they’ll keep him on their 53.
» The Packers are set at their top five cornerbacks: Davon House, Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, Kevin King and Josh Hawkins.
The sixth and presumably final spot comes down to LaDarius Gunter and undrafted rookies Donatello Brown and Lenzy Pipkins.
The coaching staff probably prefers Gunter. He played a lot as a rookie last year, and had his good moments and bad. But he knows what he’s doing.
Brown and Pipkins have more upside. Pipkins is bigger (196 pounds to Brown’s 190), but Brown is a more fluid player. The Rams took three straight shots at Brown from the Packers’ 4 in the second quarter Thursday night and didn’t score. On the first he didn’t get his head around fast enough but receiver Paul McRoberts’ catch was out of bounds. Brown broke up a fade to McRoberts on the next play and forced a throwaway with tight coverage on tight end Cory Harkey on the final play.
Brown also had a late second-quarter interception in zone coverage where he showed instincts and got a good break on the ball.
The Packers probably can cut Brown and Pipkins and get both on their practice squad. So Thompson likely will play it safe and go with Gunter on the 53. But don’t be shocked if one of the rookies makes it ahead of him.
» Last week we said Aaron Jones looked like the best pure runner of the Packers’ three draft picks at running back. But Thursday night, Devante Mays looked like the best runner of the three. He’s bigger than Jones (230 pounds to Jones’ 208) and showed an ability to set up blocks, most especially on two screen passes that went for 36 yards total.
Jamaal Williams, though, is the most complete of the three as far as functioning in the run and pass games.
You have to wonder if the Packers’ evaluations of the three have changed almost daily. One thing we’ll stand by: All three are bona fide NFL players.
— Former football coach and player Eric Baranczyk offers his analysis of Green Bay Packers games each week during the season. Follow him on Twitter @EricBaranczyk1
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