The New York Giants acquired outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell in free agency and could use him in a number of spots this year.
This past March, the New York Giants took it upon themselves to acquire a pair of now-former Green Bay Packers linebackers in Blake Martinez and Kyler Fackrell. The former, who plays more inside and certainly plays the position well (144, 144, and 155 combined tackles respectively from 2017-19), will likely earn the starting job at his respective spot. But the same can’t absolutely be said in regards to the latter.
Fackrell is in an abnormal situation as an outside linebacker/edge rusher in what will potentially be a 3-4 defensive scheme. The Giants employ a number of edge rushers on the roster, and while none are really big-name talents, it’ll be tough for Fackrell to initially crack the starting lineup.
So how will he ultimately see the field in 2020?
Well, just because he’s not slated to start doesn’t mean he won’t bring a level of competitiveness during the training camp and preseason periods. Markus Golden, in all likelihood, will start at one of the two edge rusher spots if no one else signs him by July 22 (the Giants placed the unrestricted free agent tender on him in April). But that other spot may not exactly include Lorenzo Carter‘s name carved in stone.
Carter’s consistency has been an issue — he’s only racked up 8.5 sacks in 30 career games. The coaching staff put him in the starting lineup more often last year (12 starts) than they did during his rookie campaign (two starts), and he was only able to increase his sack total by .5 and quarterback-hit total by three.
Oshane Ximines is another individual who will compete, and he surely put up promising numbers last year. During his 2019 rookie season, the former third-round selection a la the Odell Beckham Jr. trade racked up 4.5 sacks, 25 combined tackles, and nine quarterback hits in 16 games (two starts).
But there were certain games in which Ximines just disappeared. Matchups such as the Week 7 loss to Arizona and the Week 8 loss to Detroit saw Ximines respectively take 35 and 28 defensive snaps but notch zero statistics on that side of the ball. In three consecutive games from Week 6-8, Ximines respectively saw time on 63%, 55%, and 45% of the team’s defensive snaps and combined for just one total tackle in the trio of contests. After that, his playing time diminished for the most part.
Thus, constant success is an issue with the two aforementioned young outside linebackers. And while that could be the case for Fackrell at times, the 28-year-old does possess an advantage over both Carter and Ximines — familiarity with the coaching staff.
In January, the Giants awarded their then-vacant defensive coordinator role to Patrick Graham, an individual who worked with Fackrell as the Packers linebackers coach in 2018. That specific season was Fackrell’s best. He recorded 42 combined tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 12 quarterback hits, and 10.5 sacks, all career-highs.
His past success leads to the conclusion that he works well with Graham. If he can return to that level of play again, expect Fackrell to possibly make this outside linebacker position battle extremely interesting in camp.
But if Fackrell doesn’t crack the starting lineup, at least initially, Graham and outside linebackers coach Bret Bielema could use him on passing downs in a blitz-package role.
As was stated before, Fackrell notched 10.5 sacks and 12 quarterback hits in 2018 while with Green Bay. That’s .5 more sacks than Golden’s 2019 team-leading total. The Giants need as many productive pass rushers as possible, due to the fact that fans are growing impatient with the inconsistency among that department. Last year, New York racked up just 36 total sacks after recording 30 the year prior.
On passing downs, Graham will be looking to put the best group of pass rushers he has on the field. Fackrell could certainly be in that unit. Constant success within this area must be achieved though, and Fackrell still needs to prove his consistency. He notched just one sack last year after his 2018 career-high, which should motivate him to improve even more.
There’s also the significant chance Fackrell will see playing time on special teams. During his four seasons with the Packers, Kyler earned notable special-teams reps while mostly serving in a reserve role. The road to substantial amounts of defensive reps won’t exactly be the smoothest, and Fackrell may need to prove his worth here before anything.
Obviously, Joe Judge sees this facet of the sport as one that’s extremely crucial, considering he was a special teams assistant and then coordinator during his eight-year tenure with the New England Patriots. The rookie head coach will have his eyes on the standouts in this unit, and only good things will come for Fackrell if he can impress.
You can never possess too much depth when it comes to really any position on the football field, and right now, Fackrell provides that at outside linebacker/edge rusher. His familiarity with Graham could ultimately lead to him succeeding and thus raising the eyebrows of the entire coaching staff though. He’ll see the field one way or another, but if he can bring constant production to both the practice and game fields, don’t be surprised if Fackrell’s defensive playing time increases as the 2020 campaign progresses.