GREEN BAY, Wis. – In a tradition that stretches more than a decade, here is our annual ranking of the 90 players on the Green Bay Packers’ roster. This isn’t merely a look at the best players. Rather, it’s a formula that combines talent, salary, importance of the position, depth at the position and, for young players, draft positioning. More than the ranking, we hope you learn a little something about every player on the roster.
No. 28: DT Kingsley Keke (6-3, 288, second season, Texas A&M)
A fifth-round pick in 2019, Keke showed just enough potential and explosion during training camp and his limited playing time to make you think he could take a big second-year jump.
Fast forward about 11 months, that second-year jump is exactly what the Packers are expecting. If a defensive line that was an “Achilles heel at times last year,” in the words of defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, is going to be improve, Keke is going to have to be a factor.
“We saw the talent coming out of Texas A&M, but he was just very raw,” Pettine said during an offseason Zoom call. “Had a pretty good knack as a pass rusher, had some natural ability there. Just as far as his run technique, pad level, playing with his hands and having a good understanding of all the information we gather pre-snap: What is the formation? What is the down-and-distance? What personnel grouping are they in? What’s the formation telling us – is it a fullback? Is he tilted one way? Is the tight end off the ball? What are the lines – all the little details that takes guys sometimes a while not only to learn but then also to be able to apply it.”
At Texas A&M, Keke started the final 34 games of his career. As a senior, when he played more on the edge to take advantage of his athleticism, he tallied seven sacks and 11 tackles for losses. That was a big jump over his one sack and 2.5 TFLs as a junior. One reason for his big season was a big change in his diet.
“During last year, middle of the season, I started gaining a lot of weight,” Keke said of his junior year. “I used to just eat a lot of wings, Monday Tuesday, Wednesday, like 25 [a day]. I just love wings and pizza.”
Keke used his new physique to record a strong workout at the Scouting Combine, with a 4.95 in the 40. While he’s a bit undersized, he’s got 34 1/2-inch arms to help him win in the trenches.
He didn’t play much as a rookie, and especially didn’t play much down the stretch, with the lion’s share of the snaps going to Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry and Tyler Lancaster. Clark was fantastic but neither Lowry nor Lancaster were as good as they were in 2018 and Montravius Adams was a major disappointment. Green Bay’s run defense got pushed around for much of the season, and Lancaster had the only sacks (1.5) other than Clark on the line. Keke had 11 tackles and one quarterback pressure in 94 snaps, with just 14 snaps over the final four games.
“He was a guy that as the year went on, he got his opportunities in there (and) he was productive for us,” Pettine said. “That’s somebody that we’re looking forward to having a much more increased role. I don’t think it was any secret. It felt like Kenny played too many plays, Tyler is more of a true backup nose, we wanted to get Dean off the field some, too. So, developing some depth in that room [is important], so that means Keke is going to have to step up.”
Why he’s got a chance: It’s no secret that Green Bay’s defensive line wasn’t good enough last season. General manager Brian Gutekunst didn’t add anyone from a poor draft class, and the only additions of note were street free agent Treyvon Hester and waiver-wire pickup Gerald Willis. So, any dramatic improvement will have to come from within. The team seems especially bullish about Keke, though in the absence of offseason practices, who knows what that actually means.
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