Kingsley Keke's Development Will Be Key for Defense

The Green Bay Packers' run defense needs a major boost in 2020 and Kingsley Keke just may be the one to provide that. 

The last time that we saw the Green Bay Packers play they were run off the field by the San Francisco 49ers. Literally. Raheem Mostert ran for 220 yards on 7.6 yards per carry while Jimmy Garoppolo threw the ball a grand total of just eight times in what ended up as another route in Santa Clara. 

While this was the ugliest performance of the season by this Packers' run defense, it unfortunately wasn't the only time that their opponents ran all over them between the tackles. 

On the season, Green Bay would allow 120.1 rushing yards per game which ranked 23rd in the NFL. However, that stat is a bit skewed to the low side because of a few decent performances at the end of the season. For much of the year they ranked in the 25 to 28 range. During the regular season the Packers defense would give up at least 112 total rushing yards 10 times, and in six of those 10 games, their opponents would rush for at least 149 yards. 

Although the wide receiver position garnered much of the attention this offseason, if the Green Bay Packers are going to take a step forward in 2020 and make another Super Bowl push, their run defense has to improve and Kenny Clark needs some additional help. Yet with no major offseason acquisitions, that help is likely going to have to come from someone already on the roster. 

As the No. 2 option, Dean Lowry has been solid but he comes with his limitations. Meanwhile, Montravius Adams just hasn't developed as the Packers had hoped and Tyler Lancaster is fine but he's better off on a limited snap count. When it comes to these three, at this point we know who they are as players. But one player in particular who has the potential to give this run defense a boost is second-year player Kingsley Keke. 

Keke was the Green Bay Packers fifth-round selection in the 2019 draft out of Texas A&M where he was known more as a pash-rushing prospect than a run-stopper. During his senior season, he would total 7.5 sacks, five quarterback hits, and 20 hurries in his 409 pass-rush attempts.

However, as a former defensive tackle who lost some weight in order to convert to an end while at A&M, Keke surprised many Packers' coaches early on last summer with his ability against the run. In fact, defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery mentioned that he was a little shocked by how well Keke defended the run in the preseason. But that success didn't translate to much playing time for Keke in 2019.

For much of the year, Keke was the fifth option along the interior defensive line and it wasn't until Week 3 that he would see his first snaps of the season. Keke would finish with 107 snaps total, including a career-high of 15 against the New York Giants in Week 13, along with nine tackles, five defensive stops, and one quarterback pressure according to Pro Football Focus. But just because his playing time was limited, that doesn't mean that we didn't see flashes from him when he was on the field. 

Keke would record a hit on Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott that was the result of an impressive individual play and as the season progressed he made some more noise in the run game as well, especially in the second half of the NFC Championship Game. Below are a few other plays from this past season where Keke stood out: 

With Keke's athleticism, some added muscle, and the traits he possesses, he certainly has the potential to make the Year 2 leap as a five-tech end that can provide some much-needed help against the run while also giving the Packers another pass-rush option. 

Heading into Week 1 of this season Keke could very well be the third option behind Clark and Lowry and if he continues to progress, he may start stealing snaps from Lowry as well. Ultimately, Keke's development in 2020 is going to play key role in determining the level of success that this Packer run defense has this season. 

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Born and raised in Green Bay, WI and I still call it home. After my family, watching the Packers, sharing my opinions on the team through my writing and interacting with other fans is my greatest passion. You can find me on Twitter at @Paul_Bretl. 
 

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Comments (34)

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Lare's picture

May 15, 2020 at 01:40 pm

While I'm hopeful that Keke has a successful season in 2020, I'm not sure that a 288 lb. defensive lineman is going to be the missing piece for this defense to start stopping the run.

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Guam's picture

May 15, 2020 at 02:27 pm

Like you I would prefer someone the size of Snacks Harrison to assist with the run defense, however I will take anybody who can move Lancaster out of a starting role. I think Lancaster has a place on the D-line, just not with starter snaps. Hopefully Keke develops quickly.

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Leatherhead's picture

May 15, 2020 at 05:45 pm

Lancaster took 38% of our defensive snaps.

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TheVOR's picture

May 15, 2020 at 01:57 pm

Ya, banking on improvements from players that really haven't shown anything, is suicide. Keke, Burks, these are guys we could really use in a jump, but banking on one is just proven to not pan out more than it pans out. Just not buying it. They keep banging the drum for Burks and he just doesn't show up. I just don't see it.. I love the idea of it, I just don't see it happening.

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murf7777's picture

May 15, 2020 at 02:04 pm

With Burks it’s a hard call as he was injured a lot of both years. This will be his telling year. I’m not writing him off.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

May 15, 2020 at 08:34 pm

Yesss, but it often takes DL until year two to shine. I agree with you on Burks, but I would like to see how he looks: he did get injured during both of his preseasons so I don't totally discount the possibility of a jump from Burks.

Well, I suppose a jump would just be getting some meaningful snaps for Burks.

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Leatherhead's picture

May 15, 2020 at 02:31 pm

I was perplexed by our lack of movement on the defensive line. Either the GM knows what he’s doing here, or he doesn’t. There is no third possibility that I can see, so I’m going to believe that the GM has a plan that doesn’t include drafting a DL or spending in FA.

So.....the GM is seeing something in Keke, or Adams (not as likely) that makes him believe he can suit up 5 good DL in the opener. Truthfully, I don’t see it. And that makes me think we’re going to trade or pick up a guy. I’m not really seeing any FA better than Daniels and that won’t work.

I wonder if we could trade a player, or a pick next year, for a guy who could give us 500 good snaps.?? Right now, I see Clark, Lowry, and Lancaster. Adams either needs to be a player for us or we should give his roster spot to someone. If Keke does progress, and we replace Adams with a guy we traded for......we’d have an overall better line.

If memory serves, didn’t we poach Gilbert Brown from the Vikings? He was cut and we snatched him up. He was hurt for two years, but then he got healthy and nobody ran on us very well.

This is the kind of move we need. I wonder if we’ll see it.

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J_brooks's picture

May 15, 2020 at 02:44 pm

Two words Leatherhead: B.J. Raji.

That is the kind of move we need. I wonder if we'll see it.

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Coldworld's picture

May 15, 2020 at 02:48 pm

Heard a rumor Keke has been gaining the weight he shed in preparation for year two. He was anticipated to need to add strength in his lower body coming out as well. Hopefully the rumor is true: I think he would be more useful if both prove to be the case.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

May 15, 2020 at 08:39 pm

I agree but for a moment I misunderstood your movement complaint. I watched Andy's tweet and saw all sorts of front seven guys freelancing or abandoning their gap.

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PhantomII's picture

May 18, 2020 at 12:56 pm

Gute said recently of the DL I like those guys. Basically he sounded content with what he had and his actions (non-actions) show it. Is it unwillingness to admit draft mistakes ( pride/ arrogance) or belief they will improve their game. Keke was not given much game time to improve last year by Pettine and Adams has shown absolutely nothing in his time here. Our GM does what he wants regardless of how obvious to everyone else that we need to strengthen certain positions DL, WR, etc.

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stockholder's picture

May 15, 2020 at 02:48 pm

Grasping at straws and denying reality! KEKE just isn't worth singing a magic song over. Unless this team starts putting some prime Beef in the trench. Their just Not going to the super-bowl. It's not that I'm not a believer. But I'm not getting on cloud Nine with this. How can any coach watch Clarke move in and out, and figure Lowrey and Keke are suitable answers? Are Defensive Line is the Laughing stock of the NFL. Give it Time? Raji and Clarke were expected to play with immediate results. So should anybody else.

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Leatherhead's picture

May 15, 2020 at 09:01 pm

Yeah, I'm glad we didn't have that attitude with Gilbert.

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Leatherhead's picture

May 15, 2020 at 09:01 pm

Yeah, I'm glad we didn't have that attitude with Gilbert.

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canadapacker's picture

May 15, 2020 at 03:07 pm

I hope that he develops. Our problems was that the holes were so big that the running backs were at the second level before anyone could react. The D line seemed ok but we did not have a linebacker who could shed blocks and make a tackle at the line or into their backfield. Martinez the proverbial tackling machine did it after the back gained 10 yards. Our D backs couldnt tackle well either. If you dump it off and the D back comes up to make the tackle - they must make that play more than not - we were a not. I just hope with Martinez and Fackrell gone that others will step up - if not by players by scheme - It will be up to Burks, Gary, Kirksey and Summers to step up and take the heat and snaps from the Smiths. The other guy that needs to show something is Hester on the Dline - he has the NFL experience and as a 300 pounder this is probably his last crack and hopefull will be a good rotational player.

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Handsback's picture

May 15, 2020 at 03:16 pm

If Adams was truly injured last year like the rumor mills say...he could be a difference maker. Keke should become better than Lancaster, let's just hope it happens. Calling Keke a key contributor, would be pushing the envelope too much.
But hey!!!!! A good article to read on a slow sports day.

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nostradanus's picture

May 15, 2020 at 03:20 pm

Dudes?! I sense a lot of negativity here why?

In today’s NFL you must draft and develop otherwise fall into the pit of salary cap whoa and despair.

They say it takes 2 to 3 years for defensive lineman to develop, Keke has talent, Let’s let him develop and see where it goes.

Snacks Harrison is just another old washed up vet that wants another paycheck and won’t be worth the money. Signing these broken down old vets isn’t going to get us to a Super Bowl.

Draft and develop it’s the smart way to go and fill in with young upcoming free agents like we did last year.
Of course you can’t sign those expensive free agents every year so the Packers had to fill in with some mid-level vets this year.

The Packers defense will be fine they have a lot of talent and a lot of young up-and-coming players in year three of Pettine’s system. Let’s be patient and let these guys develop and see what we’ve got.

Hicks with the Bears wasn’t great until year 3 I believe.
Have faith that Gute knows what he’s doing and let him work his magic!

Remember we were 6 & 0 in the division, 13 & 3 and beat Seattle in the playoffs!

Go Pack!

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

May 15, 2020 at 08:47 pm

Hmm, that author ranked DJ Reader as better than Kenny Clark.

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Alberta_Packer's picture

May 15, 2020 at 03:42 pm

There was only one good player on the defensive line last year - Kenny Clark. I don't know why Lowry is often referred to as a solid player because he was a complete non-factor. Perhaps the question becomes, what can you expect from an NFL player who only makes 7m a year? Apparently, "not too much" (see also Billy Turner). Nevertheless Lowry does continue the tradition of the Packers over-paying for defensive ends who are really good at cashing their cheques and little else (see Nick Perry, Datone Jones...). As for the other D linemean - Adams is only a pre-season all-star. Lancaster, for all his strength and quickness, is a relatively easy block - leaving only Kingsley. While I do think Kingsley has a realistic opportunity to supplant Lancaster and even Lowry - there is little to believe why the Packers D-line will be much better this year than last. So go offence - ground control and time possession game!

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Leatherhead's picture

May 15, 2020 at 04:25 pm

Our three D-line starters feature one very good Dlineman, one above average DE, and one average guy at nose. That's not a bad start. But we need guys behind them. We did not draft one, we did not did not sign one. That means the GM is fine with what he has OR he has a plan to get a guy. OR both. Maybe he thinks Keke is the 4th guy. I'm still hoping for big nose pig.

If you let me put 350 lbs of garbage in the middle of the line I guarantee it will slow down your run game. So that's the baseline. If you have a player who is better than garbage it helps more.

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Stroh's picture

May 15, 2020 at 08:22 pm

Most of the Packers issues w/ Run defense have to do w/ scheme. Not so much personnel. Clark, Lowry and Lancaster are all good run players and would play their gaps. Lowry and Lancaster in particular are very much the type of players that would be disciplined in their gap fits. But the Pettine/Rex Ryan defensive scheme is based on getting disruption in the backfield and particularly on the QB. So they just don't emphasize gap discipline since it takes away from the ability to penetrate. Pettine wants the front 7 to get into the backfield (at basically all costs). Martinez himself referenced that the front 7 didn't play w/ any gap discipline and he was left trying to cover up all the lanes that were created. Unless Pettine really stresses gap discipline in training camp, no change at DT to Keke is really going to make a huge difference. However, if you stress the gap discipline its going to affect the amount of disruption/penetration on the backfield and QB.

Could they use a better DT to pair w/ Clark inside? Absolutely, but that isn't the root of the problems w/ the Packers run defense. That goes back almost entirely to the scheme.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

May 15, 2020 at 08:51 pm

Yup. It wouldn't hurt if Kenny Clark played better. He kind of forgot to play run defense at times.

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Coldworld's picture

May 16, 2020 at 08:03 am

Maybe it would help if he played less snaps. That’s why I’d love one if the younger ones to develop perhaps even more than a big runstuffing specialist to play next to him at times. More from less in this scenario

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

May 16, 2020 at 10:16 am

Yes, I've also written that fewer snaps might be helpful. That's because I view him as a nose tackle and not as a 4-3 DT or a 3-4 DE.

If he wants to be paid like NT, then $13M is a handsome AAV and he should play 600 snaps like DJ Reader. If he wants to Grady Jarrett (821 snaps) money or better, he has to be able to play 800 snaps plus like Jarrett, Donald (937), Suh (903), Hunter (897), Bosa, Atkins, Buckner, Calais Campbell, Fletcher Cox, all of whom play 800 plus snaps.

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greengold's picture

May 16, 2020 at 11:48 am

One of my biggest regrets from this offseason was GB not adding better talent to back up Kenny Clark and give the guy a break. I wanted a giant NT to spell Clark from this draft/FA period.

Maybe a heavy dose of run game and extended scoring drives this year from Aaron Rodgers & Co. provides some of the cure, along with Willis, Hester et al.

Gotta admit, a more dominant Offense will help this defense immensely. if they can keep opposing offenses pinned to their own sidelines while they work the field up and down, it will save our D and keep them well rested. Too many 3 & outs last season. Far too many. >>>>> I DON"T THINK THAT IS HAPPENING this 2020 season!

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CheesyTex's picture

May 16, 2020 at 07:31 am

Could not agree more, Stroh.

Pettine needs to step up to the challenge -- it is arguably the team's achilles heel.

Your handle takes me back to college days and Stroh's beer: "Brewed from the crystal clear waters or the Detroit River", and "Strohs is shorts spelled backwards". Big grins in those days.

Be safe.

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Stroh's picture

May 16, 2020 at 10:46 pm

Got the nickname from a friend who thought that Stroh was part of my last name (Its close but not exact). That was a LONG time ago. going on close to 50 yrs.

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waltercameron's picture

May 16, 2020 at 02:30 am

They're just fin, but Toronto Raptors are my all-time favorites!

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Alberta_Packer's picture

May 16, 2020 at 11:21 am

Packers would be most fortunate to have the talent and quality of the Raptors defense.

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lebowski's picture

May 16, 2020 at 10:14 am

Watching those clips hammered home another point to me; the Pack won't miss Blake Martinez all that much.

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greengold's picture

May 16, 2020 at 11:37 am

No shit! Man, he was a great guy, and motivated to learn, but severely deficient in a number of areas. Goodson and Burks sucked badly as well, which didn't help matters there.

I'm looking forward to seeing real size and speed WITH instincts, coverage skills AND the ability to get off blocks at ILB this year. That will help our run D maybe more than DL...

Gutekunst added value with both the Willis and Hester signings, plus Kirksey, and we'll just have to wait and see if it pays off the way they intended. If it works, man, hats off to them.

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greengold's picture

May 16, 2020 at 11:30 am

This whole thing is a problem area in our D, without a doubt. I can understand anyone who might not want to trust in what we have.

However, I do think Kingsley Keke is going to be really, really good this season. He's a player, and he's spent this whole offseason building his body to handle the NFL. Those pointing to BJ Raji may want to recall that he was a Top 10 pick. Those guys don't just fall off trees for a reason. NFL ready bodies at any DL position for a rookie is an exception, not anywhere near the norm.

TGR pointed to the fact that most DL require 1-3 years to develop an NFL ready body to handle the punishment, and to deliver the blows in run stop and pass rush. That's the norm. I think Keke brings some great traits, and showed many as a rookie in limited action.

Could it be Gutekunst, DL Coach Jerry Montgomery and DC Mike Pettine know what they are doing not only with their returning players Lowry, Lancaster and Adams, but as well with the developing rookie Keke and the newly signed Treyvon Hester and Gerald Willis?

I'm right with those who thought we needed to add DL as possibly a #1 or #2 priority this offseason. They addressed that the day prior to the draft with Willisand just after with Hester - and did so with players who have already had a chance to grow into the NFL DL body type that is more effective compared to adding a rookie coming in off a college training table...

Personally, I wanted all of Lowry, Lancaster and Adams sent outta here on the next SpaceX, but, that was without any consideration for the Packers staff's development plan. Gutekunst does have two more avenues for acquiring talent to add to the mix in roster cut down signings and a possible trade before the deadline if things don't work out as they foresee. I'm going to trust these guys until they show otherwise. Last year was an aberration at how deficient we were behind and next to Kenny Clark. NO ONE got the job done, especially Lowry after signing a big extension. Kenny Clark was the ONLY player to show his real worth there, along with Keke in his very limited snaps.

Kenny Clark, a bigger, stronger Keke, along with Willis, Hester, and hopefully a better developed and more motivated Lowry/Lancaster ought to help immensely with our run D, as will ILBs Christian Kirksey and Kamal Martin. Run stop was going to require a lot of position upgrades, and it looks like they've added talent to turn it around. We'll see, and hopefully it works out. Go PACK!

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Stroh's picture

May 16, 2020 at 11:19 pm

Keke is much better suited for the 3 tech role w/ Lowry taking the 5 tech. I'm sure the Packers coaches know that... Some promise, but still a long way to go. And to be honest the run defense isn't a problem of personnel, its a scheme issue.

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