One of the bigger surprises from the Green Bay Packers’ Week 1 matchup with the Vikings was the performance of UDFA LB, Krys Barnes.
Cracking the initial 53-man roster for any undrafted rookie is always going to be an uphill battle. But this offseason, it was even more challenging. With no OTAs, mini-camps, preseason games, and just less time on the practice field overall, there were fewer opportunities for these unproven players to showcase what they can do.
And for a Green Bay Packers team that typically has an undrafted free agent make the initial roster, this year they did not. Instead, they chose to cut and then stash several of those players on their practice squad, including linebacker Krys Barnes from UCLA.
Barnes was an experienced player coming out of UCLA, appearing in 43 games and making an impact against the run, the pass, and as a blitzer. Over his career, he would record 212 tackles, including 21 for a loss, along with five sacks. Barnes would also add two interceptions and 15 pass breakups.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), during his senior season, he would log 34 stops – which are plays that constitute a loss for the offense – and he totaled 15 pressures on 106 pass-rush attempts. That equals out to a very good pressure rate of over 14 percent.
Below, Tony Pauline of Pro Football Network highlighted Barnes’ skill-set prior to the draft:
“Slightly undersized linebacker who shows a great head for the ball. Quick to read and diagnose the action, works hard in all aspects of the game and displays a closing burst of speed. Immediately locates the ball, sells out to make plays and wraps up tackling. Remains disciplined with assignments in coverage and shows ability facing the action. Solid open-field tackler who is fluid in lateral pursuit.”
During Green Bay Packers’ training camp, Kamal Martin was the standout linebacker that we heard about most days, and as was expected from a UDFA, we didn’t hear much about Barnes. However, a knee injury has sidelined Martin for 6-8 weeks, and as a result, the ILB2 spot next to Christian Kirksey opened back up.
While the assumption was that either Oren Burks or Ty Summers would fill that role, just before game time in Minnesota, we learned that Barnes was not only elevated from the practice squad to the game-day roster but that he would be lining up next to Kirksey. And he took full advantage of the opportunity.
Barnes was on the field for 15 of Green Bay’s defensive snaps, with nine taking place against the run and six in coverage. He made seven total tackles, two of which were for a loss, along with three stops. In coverage, he allowed two receptions but only for five total yards.
One of those tackles was on Dalvin Cook, who had a lot of green grass in front of him if Barnes had missed. Barnes’ ability to diagnose, react, and make the play here was certainly a welcomed sight for Packer fans at the linebacker position.
Naturally, Coach Matt LaFleur took notice of Barnes’ Week 1 performance and had this to say about the undrafted rookie after the game:
“He did an outstanding job. There was one play in particular where they tried to run a screen to Dalvin Cook, who is one of the top backs in the league, and Krys did just an unbelievable job of diagnosing that play and making that tackle. And that was a big play because there was a lot of green out there for Dalvin to go if he doesn’t secure that tackle.”
While I’m sure all of us watching the game were surprised to see Barnes lined up next to Kirksey, he settled into his role very quickly, and in only 15 defensive snaps, he was able to make an impact on the game. Perhaps the Green Bay Packers found another diamond in the rough, and it happens to come at a position where they could certainly use the help.