Green Bay Packers

The Key to Elevating the Packers Defense is Already On the Roster

Photo credit: USA TODAY Sports

Make no mistake, the Green Bay Packers will be using some of their 10 draft picks this year on the defensive line. If a rookie can impress and Kingsley Keke can take the next big step, they will be in great shape with Kenny Clark.

When the Packers re-signed Tyler Lancaster earlier this week, they ensured they will have plenty of familiar faces on the d-line next year. Limited cap space meant they couldn’t sign any bigger free-agent names, and while they might still add a piece or two for depth, it won’t be a big splash.

A lot of Packers fans were angry that Lancaster is returning. It was clearly a low-cost signing with possible upside. Lancaster hasn’t been spectacular, but he was a serviceable lineman who helped the Packers go to two-straight NFC Championships.

The question isn’t if the Packers will draft some help for Clark, Keke, and Dean Lowry; it’s when. There are solid options in each round of the draft and plenty of time to find some gems.

But until that happens, Keke will be the focus at the defensive end position. We all know Clark is a Pro Bowl-caliber player, which is why the Packers re-signed him before the 2020 season was even close to over. They know what they have right now in Lowry.

So that leaves Kingsley Keke.

Kingsley Keke stats

The Houston-born defensive end was selected in the fifth round (150th overall) in the 2019 draft out of Texas A&M and has shown flashes of talent already. But 2021 will be a huge year for his development.

Kinglsey will be on the third year of his rookie contract. He played in 14 regular season games his rookie season and ended with nine total tackles. He appeared in two playoff games, where he recorded just three tackles.

His 2020 season was an excellent step forward. He played in 15 of 16 regular-season games and doubled his tackle total (18). He also recorded the first four sacks of his NFL career and one forced fumble. Those sacks came in pairs. In Week 3, he took Drew Brees down twice in the Packers’ 37-30 victory over the New Orleans Saints. Against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 13, Keke sacked Carson Wentz twice, and two of his four tackles were also for a loss. The Packers won that game 30-16.

When Keke performs, the Packers win. That’s just science.

Keke and Clark

Not that it’s fair to compare, but let’s see how Kenny Clark did his first two seasons. In 2016, Clark had 20 total tackles, much higher than Keke’s in his rookie campaign. Zero sacks. Just like Keke, Clark’s first NFL sack didn’t come until his sophomore year.

Clark started to emerge in 2017. 50 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles later, he was on the radar as a promising defensive end.

Keke can be that player as well.

This next year will be huge, and Keke should get plenty of opportunities to show what he’s got. Even with the familiar formation of Lowry, Clark, and Keke, with Lancaster providing some depth, Green Bay will need to draft one or two defensive ends or nose tackles. You hope that one of those players can become the next Kenny Clark.

Keke has the potential to be that player. During his three years at Texas A&M, he ended with 150 tackles, 21 of those for a loss, and 12 sacks. He’s even the same height and weight as Clark.

Looking Ahead

The Packers need more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and it can’t always come from the edge. Every NFL team is now watching for Za’Darius Smith, Rashan Gary, and Preston Smith. It’s time for the front three to start hitting the quarterback and tackling some running backs for a loss. There are some big, solid defensive players in the Packers’ range in the third, fourth, and fifth rounds. Who wouldn’t love a 6’5″, 350 lb end plugged in who can create some problems?

No matter who they bring in, a lot of eyes will be on Kinglsey Keke this year. Don’t be surprised if he emerges with close to 50 tackles and eight to 10 sacks. He should be the player next year that everyone is hoping for him to be.

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