When teams go through and scoop up undrafted free agents following an NFL Draft, they are usually taking flyers on players who either showed flashes of talent on tape or tantalized the scouting department. The idea with undrafted free agents isn’t to continually find a bunch of future starters for your franchise; if you hit on even one every couple of years, you’re doing a damn good job.
The Green Bay Packers have found one of these hidden gems in Krys Barnes. As Barnes enters his second season in the league, his level of play will significantly affect the Packers’ overall defensive performance.
Barnes was an undrafted linebacker out of UCLA last year. The Packers took that flyer on him but opted to cut him before the start of the season, and then quickly backtracked on that notion. Barnes was inked to a contract right before Week 1 and immediately entered the starting lineup against the Minnesota Vikings.
Players like Jaire Alexander, Za’Darius Smith, Adrian Amos, and Kenny Clark chew up a lot of the headlines on this defense, and rightfully so. Yet last year Barnes was providing steady play at inside linebacker while flying under the radar.
Keep in mind the Packers had signed Christian Kirksey that offseason to be an answer at the position. They spent a fifth-round selection on Kamal Martin out of Minnesota. But after not even being selected in the draft and just barely signing a contract in time for the Packers’ season opener, Barnes was the one who stood out.
Kirksey started out super shaky last year, and Martin missed a large chunk of the season due to injury. Barnes was the steady presence.
Joe Barry has had success molding and developing inside linebackers before. Barnes’ mix of athleticism and instinctive play gives Barry a good base to work with.
The expectations for Barnes’ first season were next to nothing. In Year 2, they will be elevated.
It may be slightly unfair, but it is important to keep in mind that Barnes was undrafted. Questions about his game remain. Does he have more to offer? What does his ceiling look like? The indications from the Packers so far are that they have full faith in him.
Green Bay cut ties with Kirksey this offseason and didn’t address inside linebacker at all in free agency. They used only a sixth-round pick to select one when they took Isaiah McDuffie out of Boston College. Brain Gutekunst and Mark Murphy didn’t do a lot to add to the inside linebacker room, perhaps for good reason. The stage is set for Barnes to be the guy at inside linebacker for Green Bay.
The Packers’ defense is largely cemented. The cornerback position features an All-Pro in Alexander and added first-round selection Eric Stokes.
Amos and Darnell Savage are a top-three duo at the position, league-wide. The one void remaining is at inside linebacker. Barnes could be that final piece.
He started in 10 games and played in 13 last year. Had it not been for a three-week stay on the COVID-19 list, those numbers would’ve been elevated. His return from the COVID list was seamless. What he displayed in those 13 games blew expectations out of the water.
Barnes proved to be a sure tackler, and he always seemed to be in the frame at the tail end of plays when the opposing ball carrier was being brought down. There are things to fine-tune, that’s for sure, but the structure is sound with Barnes.
Green Bay’s defense has the potential to become one of the best units in the NFL. Packers fans have longed for consistency at the inside linebacker position. Barnes may be that answer, and he will have plenty of opportunities to prove it in 2021.