Part 3 of Packer Report’s annual roster countdown continues with No. 51, outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell, and includes players battling for roster spots at running back and defensive line.
Our rankings aren’t solely based on talent, as we also take into account salary and the state of the depth chart in trying to determine the importance of each player on the roster. More than anything in this incredibly unscientific process, perhaps you’ll learn a little something about each member of the roster.
51. Outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell
By the end of the offseason program, Fackrell, the team’s third-round pick, was beginning to feel at home in the Packers’ defense.
Now, he’ll feel at home, period.
After barely seeing his wife and daughter for the better part of six weeks, Fackrell, wife Elizabeth and year-and-a-half-old daughter Delaney are together in the Green Bay area.
“It has been rough,” Fackrell said of their separation during the June minicamp. “I know a lot of families, they do spend some time apart, but we haven’t really done that, so this has been the longest time. I was able to go back for Memorial Day and she came out and visited a week before that. It’s hard but you do what you’ve got to do.”
By the middle of June, Fackrell felt comformable in Dom Capers’ complicated defensive scheme. That was the one blessing of being away from his family.
“It’s almost easier because there’s nothing to do but look at the playbook,” he said.
After missing the 2014 season with a torn ACL, Fackrell had a strong senior campaign at Utah State. Playing outside linebacker in its 3-4 scheme, Fackrell had 80 tackles, five sacks, 15 tackles for losses, two forced fumbles and a national-best five fumble recoveries. In our predraft rankings, we had 17 draft-worthy outside linebackers who played at major colleges and had complete statistical data from STATS. While Fackrell was No. 12 in quarterback pressures, he tied for No. 1 with 14 stuffs (tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage vs. the run) and was No. 1 in missed-tackle rate. Pro Football Focus graded him highly in coverage.
“Obviously, at the beginning of my senior season, (the knee) was still something that I thought about a little bit, but by the end of the year and today, it’s not even something that comes up in my mind,” he said.
For most third-round picks, there is the expectation of immediate playing time. That might not be the case for Fackrell. Outside linebacker is one of the deepest positions, a unit fortified with the additions of two familiar faces, Clay Matthews and Datone Jones. Julius Peppers is back, as well, and Nick Perry re-signed in free agency. Fackrell figures to battle Jayrone Elliott, a third-year pro who has flashed when given opportunities, for snaps.
“I’m here to contribute in whatever way I can,” Fackrell said. “Obviously, special teams is something that’s expected of rookies, so I’m going to contribute in every way that I can there. They rotate through (their outside linebackers) quite a bit, just in watching their games last year, so hopefully I’ll be able to get into that rotation.”
52. Running backs Brandon Burks, John Crockett, Don Jackson and Brandon Ross
With Eddie Lacy and James Starks, there’s no doubt who will be the team’s primary ball-carriers. The battle for the No. 3 job could hardly be more wide open. Crockett, an undrafted free agent last year who finished his rookie season as the No. 3 back, will try to hold off undrafted rookies Burks, Jackson and Ross.
At perennial FCS national champion North Dakota State, Crockett had three consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons and piled up 5,151 career all-purpose yards. As a rookie, he carried nine times for 21 yards — all coming at Detroit and at Arizona.
“We just had this conversation yesterday,” coach Mike McCarthy said during last month’s minicamp. “His redshirt year is over. He needs to make an impact. He needs to show up on special teams. He’s kind of trying to find his way a little bit as far as where he needs to play at weight-wise and so forth. He’s done a lot of good things. But he’s going into his second training camp, so he needs the details work and take advantage of these opportunities because those two young guys behind him, I’m excited to see them run the ball when we get the pads on.”
Actually, it’s three guys, with the recent addition of Ross, an undrafted free agent out of Maryland who spent three weeks with the Vikings. He was honorable mention all-Big Ten with 958 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior, with his 6.4-yard average leading the conference. He ranks fourth in school history with 2,543 rushing yards.
Jackson got to Green Bay from Nevada via a highway to hell. A former high school teacher figured he’d be dead or in prison by the time he was 17. Instead, after rushing for more than 2,000 yards during his final two seasons at Nevada, he’s getting his shot with the Packers, who gave him a $5,000 signing bonus.
“When I talked to him about it after, he was happy to be motivation,” Jackson said of the teacher. “I think that’s what it was. I don’t think he meant it — I don’t know what was going through his head that day, but all I know is he’s a good guy now and he was a good guy then. He wanted the best out of me, because he was a coach — he was a teacher but he was an ex-coach and football-oriented, so, of course, he’s going to give me his best punch, simple as that. When he said that, I took that and ran with it and I used it as my motivation. I reached out to him and I said, ‘Hey, Coach, I just wanted to let you know ...’ I wanted to remind him of the conversation and the differences that me and him had. I told him, ‘I got my degree at Iowa Western, I won a national championship and I just got accepted into Nevada with a full-ride scholarship, and I want to thank you for being motivation.’ When he wrote me back, he said, ‘You’re welcome. I’m just happy to see that you turned it around and things turned out the right way for you.’”
Watch out for Burks, who received a $1,000 bonus. Not only did he rush for 1,005 yards as a senior at Troy, he caught 29 passes as a senior and 88 during his final three seasons. Jackson (seven catches for 77 yards) and Ross (five catches for 17 yards) were nonfactors in the passing game during their final seasons; Crockett caught 30 passes as a senior but zero as a rookie.
“Crockett and Don, they’re great players, but that’s where I’ve got to stick out,” Burks said. “Both of them can run, both of them have good vision. Throughout practice, I try to emphasize the smaller stuff. Catching it, watching the ball come in, just to make it stand out to the coaches that I am a great catcher. I’m determined to catch everything. When it’s a one-one-one matchup with a linebacker or whatever, I want to give them the presumption that I can win the one-on-one battle every time. So, I feel like my pass-catching ability is a big part of me trying to stick around.”
Burks’ challenge for a roster spot got off to a delayed start, with Troy’s graduation scheduled during the Packers’ rookie camp.
“(Running backs) coach Ben (Sirmans) told me, ‘We’re going to fly you out on Thursday,’” Burks recalled. “I said, ‘Yes, sir. Yes, sir. I’m ready!’ Then I called him back and said, ‘I’ve got graduation,’ and told him, ‘Look, Coach, I can miss graduation. They can mail (my diploma) to me.’ He was like, ‘You know, Brandon. It’s fine.’ I was pretty happy that I got to walk across the stage because I was the first one in my family to do it.”
For what it’s worth: Ross is 5-foot-10 and 201 pounds with a 40-yard time of 4.44 seconds, a 37.5-inch vertical jump and just 10 reps on the 225-pound bench press. Jackson is 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds with a 4.50 in the 40, 38.5-inch vertical and 15 reps on the bench. Burks is 5-foot-8 5/8 and 208 pounds, with a 4.56 in the 40, a 37-inch vertical and 24 reps on the bench. At the 2015 Scouting Combine, Crockett measured in at 5-foot-11 3/4 and 217 pounds, with a 4.62 in the 40, a 40-inch vertical leap and 15 reps on the bench.
Burks is short — almost an inch-and-a-half shorter than the other rookies — but he’s not small. He knows he’s going to have to prove he can protect the quarterback if he’s going to make the roster. He said he made big strides in that phase of the game under the tutelage of Troy coach Neal Brown.
“I feel like my freshman year to my senior year of college, I improved a lot — a lot-lot,” he said. “I’m just waiting for training camp because I feel like that’s the big part that’s going to set me apart from Don and Crockett. They’re great players but, for me being 5-9, that’s going to really show the coaches that, ‘Brandon’s a good player. He can run, he can catch. Before we make a decision, can he block?’ Most running backs, that’s what we’ve got to be able to do. At training camp, that’s what I’m going to emphasize and make sure I keep the dude from getting to the quarterback.”
56: Defensive linemen Demetris Anderson, Tyler Kuder, B.J. McBryde, Brian Price and Christian Ringo
With Mike Pennel facing a four-game suspension to start the season, the Packers’ defensive line is thin — very thin — behind the lone returning veterans, Mike Daniels and Letroy Guion, and two draft picks, Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry.
For at least the first four weeks, one of these five not only will be on the roster but asked to contribute.
“We’re going to have to have some guys step up, especially in those first four games. That’s just the way it is, Capers said.
Ringo (6-1, 298) has the edge based on seniority and draft status — a sixth-rounder last year. After an uneventful rookie training camp, he spent the season on the practice squad. As a senior at Louisiana-Lafayette, Ringo piled up 11.5 sacks with 20 tackles for losses. McBryde (6-5, 303) joined Ringo on the practice squad late in the season. He’s got prototypical size, but that didn’t do him a bit of good at Connecticut, where he started eight games and recorded two tackles for losses in his entire career.
They’re joined by three undrafted rookies. Kuder (6-3, 307) opened his career at Montana Western before spending three all-conference seasons at Idaho State. As a senior, he won the team’s Jared Allen Award as Defensive MVP following a season of 92 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 11 tackles for losses. He received a $3,000 signing bonus. Price (6-3, 318) spent three seasons at Texas-San Antonio after opening his career at Hancock (Calif.) Junior College. As a senior, he had 33 tackles, one sack and two tackles for losses. He received a $2,500 bonus. Anderson (6-1, 312), who opened his career with a season at Western Michigan, missed his senior season at Central Florida with a torn ACL and earned his way onto the training camp roster as a tryout player at the rookie camp. He did not receive a signing bonus. Not that he cares.
“It feels great. I’m just blessed to be here,” Anderson said. “I feel like I’m myself again.”
In 2014, he had 34 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for losses and was a two-time member of the conference all-academic team. He entered his season with big expectations and with the NFL on his radar. Instead, it all went down the drain when he injured his knee while working out before fall camp. The NCAA denied his request for an extra season of eligibility because he was a transfer.
“Not playing the whole year and still getting a shot, most people dream about something like this and to still have hope,” Anderson said at the June minicamp. “I just never gave up. My mom, she told me to never give up on anything I do. That’s what really inspired me to keep going hard and doing what I’ve got to do.”
Anderson started jogging on a treadmill about three months after surgery. A couple months after that, he set his sights on UCF’s March 23 pro day. It was a target that, at times, he didn’t think he’d meet.
“It’s like, my knee still kind of feels like it’s not going to hold up,” Anderson recalled. “But I just kept rehabbing, rehabbing, rehabbing. Before I knew it, I said, ‘I’m going to take this knee brace off and let it rip.’ Two weeks before pro day, I felt like myself and it’s been fine ever since.”
Anderson said his comeback is “still a work in progress.” He was pleased with his work during the offseason practices and is hopeful that he’d be back in top form in time for camp.
“They’re going to get the full me,” Anderson said. “Everything I can do with my body and soul, I’m going to give it to them because they gave me this opportunity.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.