Kyler Fackrell had a breakout season for the Packers in 2018, and last season he said he felt as if he got even better.
That would seem to be the perfect situation for a player at a highly valuable position like outside linebacker in the NFL who headed into free agency this offseason. Ka-ching!
The only problem was that Fackrell thought he got better but never had much of an opportunity to show it. He posted 10.5 sacks in 2018 and then saw his team sign two big-ticket players – Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith — that reduced his role in the defense to a less-used backup.
“It was obviously not ideal,” he said after having his snap count drop from about 39 per game to 26 per game and his sack total shrink from double digits to just one.
So instead of cashing on a big contract, Fackrell’s options were more limited and he wound up signing a one-year deal with the Giants. It’s a prove-it contract, something similar to the one the Giants gave to Markus Golden last year when he led the team in sacks (and remains a free agent).
So what does Fackrell want to show in 2020?
“I believe that I am better than a one-sack guy,” he said. “That’s really what I’m going to try to prove.”
The Giants will give him a chance to show that. He’ll be reunited with his former position coach in Green Bay, new Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, and be asked to play an important, versatile role in the scheme.
“I have the utmost confidence in myself,” Fackrell said on a conference call on Thursday. “I think that I am a very versatile 3-4 [strong side] outside linebacker. I love to rush and I think I’m good at it and I take a lot of pride in dropping and making plays in space as well. In the kind of 3-4 defense we played in Green Bay, and I think Patrick Graham runs kind of a similar style of defense, having a versatile outside linebacker like that is very valuable.”
Clearly Graham believes in Fackrell. Another believer is new Giants inside linebacker Blake Martinez. They were teammates together in Green Bay for four years and even roommates in rookie camp and training camps.
“He’s an amazing player,” Martinez said. “I think there is a lot of things that he hasn’t been able to show because of certain kind of depth chart things, certain roles he was placed into. Obviously, he had a 10-sack season two years ago. This last year he was a role player that stepped in and did a lot of great things. I think he is one of the best zone coverage linebackers in the NFL in my opinion. What he has been able to do for us and what he’s been asked to do, he’s done a phenomenal job and I know he is going to be a great asset to this team and show people a lot of great things this year. “
There will be plenty of ways to quantify Fackrell’s impact on the Giants. He noted that while his bottom-line statistics were down last season, he actually had a much higher percentage of quarterback hits in 2019 (10) than he did when he posted those 10.5 sacks (12).
“Pressures are a big thing and I think the league is kind of trending toward recognizing that,” Fackrell said. “Maybe a guy gets 10 sacks but he has half the pressures of a guy who has 8 sacks and is in the quarterback’s face and affecting the quarterback, getting him off his spot a lot. As a rusher you are more valuable when you can do that more consistently.”
He and Leonard Williams, who led the defensive line in quarterback hits with 11 in just eight games last year but had just 0.5 sacks, can have a nice long conversation about that.
Fackrell also said he wants to improve his play at the line of scrimmage against the run, come up with more tackles for losses and help the passing defense by dropping into coverage.
Those are all ways that he will measure his success in 2020.
The rest of the world? It’ll probably be by his sack total.
The Giants have spent the last few years in the bottom tier of the league in sacks. They haven’t been in the top half in that category since 2016 and they haven’t been in the top 10 since 2014. They now have Fackrell and a group of other young edge rushers in Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines who they hope can change that habit this season.
For that to happen, Fackrell will probably have to be more than a “one-sack guy.” Much more.
“I know that I didn’t produce the way that I wanted to last year,” he said, “but I think I have a great opportunity to do that this year and I am looking forward to it.”