With Kirksey Cut, Looks Like Krys Barnes is Da Man

Packers bank on Barnes and Kamal Martin emerging into stars.

At least for the time being, the Green Bay Packers are turning their inside linebacker positions over to their young bucks.   

 

The decision to release veteran Christian Kirksey to save salary cap space means Green Bay feels okay with second year undrafted free agent Krys Barnes in the middle, backed up and sometimes joined by 2020 5th round draft pick Kamal Martin. 

 

Barnes’ rise has been  especially meteoric, considering he was on the practice squad on September 6th of this past year.  The former UCLA Bruin wasn’t even signed to the active roster until September 12, exactly one day before Green Bay opened the season at Minnesota.  Yet he started the game and immediately caught the eye of the coaching staff, responding with  seven tackles in a victory over the Vikings.  Kirksey struggled to recover from past injuries and appeared sluggish in coverage.  By midseason, Barnes had displaced Kirksey as the starter and was a key contributor in the Packers’ defensive surge late in the year. 

 

He peaked in week 17 with 14 tackles in a win over the Bears that clinched the number one seed in the NFC.  Two weeks later in the divisional playoff game against the Rams, Barnes fractured his left thumb.  Undaunted, he returned to the game wearing a huge club on his left arm, finished with a team-leading ten tackles, and almost made a diving interception despite the club handicapping his grip.  He finished with ten starts in 13 regular season games, racking up 79 tackles, one sack, five tackles for loss and one forced fumble, a huge play on the goal line against Carolina.

 

Barnes’ emergence made Green Bay’s decision regarding Kirksey easy.  The seven year veteran out of Iowa was in the middle of a two year contract worth $13 million.  Releasing him saved the team nearly six million dollars in cap space. 

 

The move also clears the way for the growth of second year player Kamal Martin.  After spending the first six weeks of his rookie campaign on injured reserve, Martin debuted in week seven against the Texans and sparked the defense with his speed, hustle, and aggressive style.  He rang up five tackles in that first game and went on to six starts through the end of the regular season.  He finished with 20 tackles, 3 tackles for loss and one sack. 

 

But Barnes and Martin are not finished products.  Their collective inexperience sometimes causes them to take fakes and miss tackles.  Martin has a tendency to be too aggressive, over running plays and taking himself out.  He had five missed tackles.  At 229 pounds, Barnes may be a bit light for the position and tends to get beaten up. He had to leave several games with various injuries.  By comparison, Martin is 240 and Kirksey played at 235.   Barnes missed eight tackles, not great but not terrible, considering the amount of snaps he played.

   

So the question going forward is, are Barnes and Martin good enough?  Or do the Packers continue to look for a better ILB?   Oren Burks is still on the roster.  The special teams standout has been given multiple opportunities to win the job but hasn’t shown enough.  Ty Summers plays hard and moves sideline to sideline pretty well, but misses too many tackles and doesn’t cover well.

 

The Packers may well address the position in the draft, although they have a lot of other needs and a history of low priority for the unit.  Free agency?  There are some great names out there, most of whom will be too expensive.  Guys like Lavonte David, Matt Milano, K.J. Wright and Denzel Perryman would look awesome in green and gold, but they carry price tags that the cap-strapped Packers just can’t abide.  The rest are probably not as good or don’t have as much upside as Barnes and Martin. 

 

So it seems Green Bay will go with its young, promising tandem.  It’s critical they take the next step and solidify the middle of this defense. 

 

   

 

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Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.

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Comments (42)

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scoonie_penn's picture

February 22, 2021 at 06:18 am

Luv KB, he's got a lot of traits you look for in a LB but unfortunately he also has a history in college and now in the NFL of getting hurt and missing time. Playing the LB position means you're almost certain to have a major impact with an offensive player on every play. Can his body hold up to that much contact? I hope so, but doubt it. Maybe GB gets a magical season or two from him and ride it to the SB?

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KenEllis's picture

February 22, 2021 at 12:02 pm

I too like Barnes. He really OVER-performed for an undrafted, rookie free agent.

However, there are a number of reasons that he went undrafted, not just his injury history and the concerns about his ability to stand up to physical punishment at the NFL level.

For example, his 40-time of 4.79 is SLOWER than guys like Blake Martinez, Jake Ryan, BJ Goodson and several other who have played inside linebacker (not well) in Green Bay over the past decade.

Barnes is a complementary piece. He should never be asked to be DA MAN at inside linebacker -- unless the Packers want to continue to trot out mediocre (or worse) defenses as they have for the past decade.

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Coldworld's picture

February 22, 2021 at 06:25 pm

I have no proof either way, but there are players who don’t do themselves justice at their pro day. In this case, Barnes did not get an invitation to the combine and his pro day was cancelled. Apparently he and his agent improvised one.

One if the first things I noticed about Barnes when he got on the field was he plays faster than his time. He appears more sudden and had better range than Martinez. Nothing during the season changed that assessment. He also made some plays in open space. Been a while since we’ve had much of that.

He’s a rookie, far from perfect and he suffered from no pre season. Looks to have potential, but, to my eyes at least, he isn’t slow. Is he “da man”? I don’t know, but he looks to have potential piece in our puzzle if he continues to develop.

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jannes bjornson's picture

February 22, 2021 at 12:06 pm

I believe Barnes missed two games in his career as a three-year starter for the Bruins. As a freshman he primarily played special teams. He has played at 235 lbs since his sophmore season. He is not light in the britches. He is the Mike and Martin will be the offside WLB. If the fans were sober you witnessed him playing with a broken hand in the Rams and TBucs playoff starts. This defense is not a 4-3 from the '60s.

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Turophile's picture

February 22, 2021 at 06:23 am

Regarding this comment:
"The Packers may well address the position in the draft, although they have a lot of other needs and a history of low priority for the unit."

The Packers expended a 4th round pick on Jake Ryan in 2015. In 2016 they spent a 4th on Blake Martinez and in 2017 they got a big hybrid S/ILB in Josh Jones in round 2. In 2018 it was Oren Burks (3rd round pick). I would say that these repeated efforts amount to paying a good amount of attention to the position, over time.

I would describe the Packers approach as being more like "they kept trying and (mostly) failing", rather than describing their draft efforts as being 'low priority'.

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jannes bjornson's picture

February 22, 2021 at 12:10 pm

If a primo LB falls in the first round they should bag him. Martinez could tackle, but not cover very well. The rest were just sp teamers at best and busts like Burks. The inside of the defense needs more speed and the D-line needs more power. Barry should be playing a more flex defense, bringing in some 4-2/3-4 looks.

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CAG123's picture

February 22, 2021 at 05:38 pm

Now we’re not going to pretend that just because Jones played some dime LB he was a “safety/ILB hybrid” he only played that role because his short comings as a safety at the NFL level the guy couldn’t beat out Kentrell Brice. Besides Burks and Blake I can’t say the Packers were really taking the position seriously I mean Jake Ryan? Come on.

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NickPerry's picture

February 23, 2021 at 05:10 am

Whether you like PFF or not I saw an interesting ranking for 2020. Blake Martinez was the 6th ranked ILB overall for 2020. His overall grade was 75.9. His run defense grade was 75.2 and his pass defense grade was 73.9.

Hmmm...So perhaps it WASN'T Martinez as much as it was Mike Pettines scheme. For what it's worth Kirksey was ranked 61st, Barnes 71st, and Patrick Queen, a guy I keep hearing Gute SHOULD have taken was ranked 82nd out of 83 players...Hmmmm

BUT...Devin White was ranked behind Kirksey at 62nd so really, WTH is up with all these PFF grades and so much weight put into them? I don't know but I thought that was pretty interesting.

Barry is a LB coach. I guess we'll see what he thinks of Barnes and Martin. Personally I think the Packers need a CB or two, an OT, WR, DL, and a hybrid safety type that we HOPED Josh Jones was going to be. I feel pretty confident Barnes and Martin take jumps and work out just fine.

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Swisch's picture

February 22, 2021 at 09:39 am

Tricky thing is when guys like Blake Martinez come to the end of their rookie contracts and determining what they are worth going forward.
It's always interesting to see what guys do with other teams (e.g. Martinez and Fackrell), and wondering if we should have kept them.
It seems easier to compare Fackrell with Preston Smith as both being veterans, than it is Martinez as a veteran to a rookie like Barnes.
In any case, interesting stuff, Nick.
Seems as though we could've traded Kirksey for Devin White?

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Since'61's picture

February 22, 2021 at 10:43 am

Nick, PFF grades and rankings seem pretty arbitrary to me. They seem inconsistent and don’t accurately reflect actual performance. I have never put much stock in PFF

As for Martinez, it appears that he played well however, similar to his time in Green Bay he made little impact on his team’s results. NYG’s defense was average and their record was 6-10. His durability is his strong point, after that not much.

I hope the Packers draft at least one maybe 2 ILBs in the upcoming draft. Then we could Chuck either Summers or Burks. Neither has given us very much. Thanks, Since ‘61

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NickPerry's picture

February 23, 2021 at 05:17 am

I had a lot of hope for Summers but damn, that kid misses so many tackles. The NFL Network replayed the Packers vs Saints. That run by Kamara where at least 6 or 7 Packers misses tackles including Summers who had an excellent chance to get him down but misses...UGH!

Summers isn't it!

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

February 23, 2021 at 03:06 am

Nick, Martinez had a 73 PFF grade for GB in 2018, so it isn't that Pettine's system precluded him from playing well. Blake had a bad year in GB in 2019, perhaps because Clark wasn't dominant and the absence of Mike Daniels.

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NickPerry's picture

February 23, 2021 at 05:13 am

Good point TGR.

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MITM's picture

February 23, 2021 at 07:25 pm

No no, in 2019 it absolutely was Pettines system that held Martinez back. 2018 was a VERY different personnel grouping and things got funneled toward Blake that year. 2019, if you take a look at Blakes comments on his way out about his role with the defense, and check the tape - it looks like thats exactly what he was doing. a
Also the wide alignments of the DLine in 2019 combined with being the only true linebacker on the field most of the time is a recipe for disaster for an ILB.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

February 24, 2021 at 02:15 am

Very fair. The personnel changed. Clark was dominant in 2018 but not in 2019 or 2020.

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Coldworld's picture

February 22, 2021 at 07:13 am

Kirksey looked decent at Will, but let’s be honest, he wasn’t a starter and we need cap space. That looks to be the primary driver. I am guessing we draft, but also hope to pick up one of the FAs likely to be around this summer at better prices, potentially even Kirksey if he is still unsigned.

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dobber's picture

February 22, 2021 at 07:20 am

You don't have to think Barnes or Martin is going to be a star to know that Kirksey wasn't.

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Johnblood27's picture

February 22, 2021 at 07:57 am

cookie 4 u.

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dobber's picture

February 22, 2021 at 12:05 pm

I'll take 'em!

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Swisch's picture

February 22, 2021 at 07:54 am

As good as Gary has been in his progress as an outside linebacker, I still wonder if he could be even better on the inside, busting up the middle on blitzes, and chasing runners sideline to sideline
Could that be a position in which he truly becomes dominant?

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Guam's picture

February 22, 2021 at 08:33 am

Gary has great straight line speed for a guy his size, but I doubt he has the lateral quickness to play ILB. I suspect he would be a serious liability in coverage.

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Swisch's picture

February 22, 2021 at 09:45 am

I thought that at Michigan, Gary reportedly had excellent range from sideline to sideline.
Also, It would be interesting to assess Gary's coverage skills as to whether they would be better inside or outside.

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Coldworld's picture

February 22, 2021 at 10:20 am

Burst is one thing, but physically even with his athleticism, this is conceiving of an apple as an orange.

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jannes bjornson's picture

February 22, 2021 at 12:27 pm

That was Devin Bush. Gary can go EDGE and play hand-on-the-Ground. He can fit in multiple looks.

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Handsback's picture

February 22, 2021 at 08:29 am

I think Green Bay was lucky in landing Barnes and Martin last year. They will continue to look for depth/starters at every position including ILB, but for now they at least have decent starters that will get better.

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Coldworld's picture

February 22, 2021 at 06:35 pm

I was a big fan of the Martin pick, I still think he will develop into a steal. That said, one has to admit that Barnes had a bigger impact in year one and belied his stated measurables. No we need competition and depth.

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marpag1's picture

February 22, 2021 at 08:52 am

Krys Barnes is being massively overrated by a whole lot of Packer fans. Last year, he was so-so against the run and a massive liability in coverage. I would say he has the potential to improve to the level of OK-ish starter, but that's probably the ceiling. It's seems awfully silly to talk about his "meteoric rise."

The Packers definitely need huge improvement from last year at ILB.

People don't have to love Blake Martinez or his price tag if they don't want to, but Martinez was waaaaaaaaay better than Barnes and still is.

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JohnnyLogan's picture

February 22, 2021 at 09:51 am

You may be right, Marpag1, but the eye test still gives hope that Barnes will turn out better than Martinez. Blake was a favorite of many here, including me. A good player who racked up a huge number of tackles while with the Packers and continues to do so with the Giants.

Yet while he was here few thought he was a top-tier MLB. Even though his tackle numbers were always high it often seemed like he hadn't even played that day. Why?

A mystery wrapped in an enigma.

Blake is like Victor Jensen in my 9th-grade class. Victor didn't seem that smart, or good-looking. Short, lisp, acne that shone so loud you could see it from a block away. Yet the girls loved him. Made you wonder.

Now Blake is no Victor Jensen in real life. Off the football field, he's movie-star handsome and built like Charles Atlas (look him up young'uns). But on the football field acne suddenly appears. He's not fast, doen't hit that hard, can't really cover, doesn't make plays behind the line of scrimmage, or create turnovers. The man just doesn't seem like a great MLB.

Yet he leads the league in tackles or is close every year and PFF loves him.

Barnes on the other hand gets criticized for being too small to deal with big offensive linemen. Maybe he doesn't need to. He knows something Blake doesn't. You don't have to walk into a wall, you go around or take the door. Barnes, it seems to me, has a knack for running around or through linemen to take down ball carriers then hands them his card.

They also say he's too slow to cover. Could be, but he seems to be rejecting passes more often than Lauren Bacall (look her up too).

Blake gets the accolades in the same way Victor got the girls. But I like Barnes. To my untrained eye, he can be and may already be a damn good MLB.

Mystery, meet enigma.

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TarynsEyes's picture

February 22, 2021 at 09:54 am

This is 100% true, but truth takes a backseat for many who believe that, as long as any player wears the Green and Gold, it's a 'Tony the Tiger' mentality, 'They're Great'.

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PatrickGB's picture

February 22, 2021 at 10:19 am

I do admit to a fondness to our own players. I would make a lousy GM.

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Guam's picture

February 22, 2021 at 08:38 am

Burks and Summers have had enough development time that they are what they are at this stage and that is pretty much special teamers only. I suspect the Packers will use one or more day three pick to shore up the depth at ILB. Barnes is a terrific find, but his injury history demands that the Packers draft again at ILB to insure injury replacement talent is available.

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jannes bjornson's picture

February 22, 2021 at 12:31 pm

Burks will be moved, Gutedkunst's guy or not, he is not a NFL player.

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Coldworld's picture

February 22, 2021 at 06:47 pm

I keep reading that Barnes has an injury history, so I did a quick look at his history. From what I read, he doesn’t at all.

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Demon's picture

February 22, 2021 at 09:03 am

Can we please stop calling Burks a Special teams standout? Any team whos STs are ranked near the bottom in every category for the better part of 2 decades do not have any standouts.

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Lphill's picture

February 22, 2021 at 09:41 am

Neither Barnes or Martin have or will have the talent Kirksey has , they need to re sign Kirksey to a team friendly contract.

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stockholder's picture

February 22, 2021 at 01:54 pm

LP - Draft Baron Browning first. He can play the 4-3-4.

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stockholder's picture

February 22, 2021 at 12:17 pm

Neither Barnes or Martin are Queen. In Pettines scheme; Queen would have Flourished. And Pettine still would be here. In Baltimore. They have to be a wrecking ball. Just different defenses. But; They were happy they Drafted him !!! The biggest thing now, is who has upside. Does Barnes and Martin have enough upside? Together Yes! But if this defense gets away from the 3-4-4. No! We need Ray Nitscke. A Brian Urlacker. A Ray Lewis. A guy that wraps up everything, goes sideline to sideline. That plugs that hole. That is the heart of the defense. And can run like a RB. Until we see what Barry wants. No judgement can be made. But one judgement we can make is this: Fix the DL First!

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Coldworld's picture

February 22, 2021 at 06:58 pm

Sorry, could be wrong, but he seems to have many of the same disadvantages as as Barnes. Moreover, I don’t see him thriving in that scheme or behind the D line Pettine used. He was a rookie, so a little early to say he won’t thrive in the NFL, but he should have been a lot more ready than Barnes and Martin and wasn’t.

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TXCHEESE's picture

February 22, 2021 at 02:58 pm

Give Barnes and Martin an off season in the NFL weight rooms and I think they'll surprise many. For rookies, they both showed pretty fair instincts, and a knack for getting to the ball carrier. I give Barnes extra credit for being able to call the defense as a rookie....not an easy thing to do, especially without a full pre-season and training camp. If Martin can harness all that badass inside, he will shine.

Draft a couple of options and back fill with either Summers or Burks. Let Kirksey go find another team or come back on a lower salary.

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Coldworld's picture

February 22, 2021 at 07:01 pm

I’d give Summers another year, he was a late pick who was raw and I think he has shown some improvement in terms of reading the game. Up to him to improve his tackling, but he has the ability to get there.

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CAG123's picture

February 22, 2021 at 05:45 pm

I’m not holding my breath for either of these ILBs at this point I’m just worn out of the “insert late round/UDFA” player hype we go through every damn year only for said player not to work out and disappear into the wind. I’ll wait until I see the actual production on a consistent basis not little snippets I’m tired of potential and promise at this point.

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MITM's picture

February 23, 2021 at 07:31 pm

People on here are a little hard on Kirksey. He got injured and missed his games, was not a good Mike backer for us. However once he was implanted in his natural WLB role I thought he was pretty impressive the 2nd half of the season. He had a few sacks a few picks a few TFLs on screens. I was allover him early on but he really earned my respect the 2nd half. He looked like the player i had seen on the Browns.

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