GREEN BAY, Wis. – It is clear Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst will at least look at free agency as a way to solve their issues at inside linebacker.
Along with interest in the Los Angeles Rams’ Cory Littleton, a second-team All-Pro in 2018, and the Cleveland Browns’ Joe Schobert, who intercepted four passes last season, Gutekunst is expected to widen his net to include the Chicago Bears’ Nick Kwiatkoski, according to a source in confirming a report from Pro Football Weekly.
Kwiatkoski was a fourth-round pick in 2016 – as was Blake Martinez, the every-down inside linebacker for Green Bay the past three seasons – and Schobert. Schobert was the 99th selection, Kwiatkoski the 113th and Martinez the 131st. Littleton was undrafted in 2016.
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Last season, due to injuries to Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan, Kwiatkoski started a career-high eight games. He put up career-best numbers across the board with 76 tackles, three sacks, eight tackles for losses, four passes defensed and one interception. Even with Martinez starting 16 games and playing exactly twice as many snaps (1,024 to 512), Kwiatkoski had more passes defensed (4 to 2) and tackles for losses (8 to 5) and had matching totals in sacks, interceptions and forced fumbles (one).
“He took full advantage for his opportunities when he got them,” Bears general manager Ryan Pace said at the Scouting Combine. “You tip your hat to him. We talk about drafting and developing players. With him being a fourth-round pick, we’re proud of where he got to.”
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In four seasons, Kwiatkoski started 22 games and played in 57 of a possible 64. He’s got career marks of 184 tackles, four forced fumbles, one interception, eight passes defensed and 13 tackles for losses.
Smith was injured heading into the Week 15 game against Green Bay. Asked what the Bears were missing, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers instead focused on Kwiatkoski.
“Well, 44 (Kwiatkoski), I’ve always thought he’s been a really solid player,” Rodgers said. “I don’t want to butcher his last name. But he rocked me a couple years ago and I know where 44’s at most times when he’s in the game. I have a lot of respect for him, the way he’s played and his approach to the game. He’s been backing up both Danny (Trevathan) and Roquan this season and he does a hell of a job. He’s a great player.”
Athletically, Martinez, Schobert, Kwiatkoski and Littleton had similar results at the 2016 Combine.
40-yard dash: Martinez, 4.71; Schobert, 4.76; Kwiatkoski, 4.73; Littleton, 4.73.
20-yard shuttle: Martinez, 4.20; Schobert, 4.30; Kwiatkoski, 4.22; Littleton, 4.32.
Vertical: Martinez, 28.5; Schobert, 33.5; Kwiatkoski, 32; Littleton, 29.5.
Littleton, who is one of the league’s premier pass-defending linebackers, is considered the top free agent at the position and one of the top free agents overall. A league source said between Schobert and Kwiatkoski, Kwiatkoski might be more highly valued because he’s a more physical run defender. The Packers were demolished by the 49ers’ running game in the NFC Championship Game.