What’s the Packers’ Weakest Link?
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Because of the salary cap, no NFL roster is perfect. Oftentimes, the imperfections end up mattering more than the strengths, as opponents spend all week finding ways to exploit those blemishes.
That was true of the Green Bay Packers last season. While they finished 13-3, they were overwhelmed in the NFC Championship Game by San Francisco. The Packers' defense, with strong pass rushers and early draft picks in the secondary, were built to stop the pass. So, the 49ers ran the ball down the Packers' throats.
So, what is Green Bay’s weakest link? In examining every team’s roster, SI.com’s Conor Orr looked at linebacker rather than receiver.
“I think anyone who saw the 2019 NFC Championship Game would side with me here,” Orr wrote as part of his summation on the Packers. “The linebacker position as a pass-rushing unit has promise, and, in fact, was a top-seven team when sending three-, four- and six-man pressure last year. However, the Packers struggled mightily against the run and were exposed often in man coverage. This would have been an interesting offseason to get younger and faster at the position.”
In the championship game, Blake Martinez’s lack of speed was exploited by the 49ers. The Packers let Martinez depart in free agency and replaced him with Christian Kirksey. In 2016 and 2017 with the Cleveland Browns, Kirksey was one of the most productive linebackers in the NFL. He had 281 tackles during that span, a figure that trailed only Seattle star Bobby Wagner. Kirksey, however, played in only seven games in 2018 and two games in 2019 due to injuries.
In the draft, the Packers traded up in the first round, not to take speedy linebacker Patrick Queen but to select quarterback Jordan Love.
Beyond Kirksey, injuries are a common thread at linebacker. Oren Burks, a third-round pick in 2018, has been hit hard by injuries the past two Augusts and Kamal Martin, a fifth-round pick in 2020, missed a big chunk of last season at Minnesota with a knee injury.
“Just watching Blake and seeing how he played, I think he played the game football at a high level,” Kirksey said in a Zoom call this week. “I what he did in Green Bay definitely was good for the organization. Obviously, you see that he’s top five (in the NFL in tackles) for a number of years playing there. For me, what I would say is my experience is versatility, whether it’s in the pass game or the run game. Manning that will position in Cleveland, I played in space for the majority of the time, so I think I bring I versatility to where I can match on a tight end (or running back).”