EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Kyler Fackrell's football career has always been marked by versatility.
As a senior at Mesa High School in Arizona, he caught five touchdown passes, threw for four and totaled 68 tackles and two interceptions at safety while leading the Jackrabbits to their first 5A state championship appearance in 17 years.
Fackrell then spent two years away from football, the first working as a house painter while pondering whether to go on a Mormon mission, the second as a redshirt at Utah State.
"I feel like I was just trying to figure things out," Fackrell said in a phone conversation today. "I was super active in high school. I honestly think it might have been good a little bit to let my body rest and kind of grow."
Since resuming his career in 2012, Fackrell has remained a flexible, multipurpose player – at one position. The coaches at Utah State moved him to outside linebacker, where he had never previously played. Fackrell started all 41 collegiate games in which he appeared and registered 253 tackles, 12.0 sacks and four interceptions.
"I loved playing the position, even though I was new to it," he said. "There was a lot of learning, but it was a great opportunity, for sure."
The Green Bay Packers selected Fackrell in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft, one round and 43 picks ahead of another linebacker, Stanford's Blake Martinez. The adaptable Fackrell can thwart an offense harassing quarterbacks (10.5 sacks in 2018) or covering tight ends and running backs ("he is one of the best zone coverage linebackers in the NFL," Martinez said.)
Now Fackrell will bring his varied skills to the Giants, who last week signed him – and Martinez – to bolster their linebacker group. The two players spent the previous four years with the Green Bay Packers. With the Giants, they will be reunited with defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, who coached the Packers' inside linebackers and was the run game coordinator in 2018.
"I'm super excited," Fackrell said. "I've heard nothing but great things about the Giants organization, and obviously, I know Pat Graham pretty well. He's a great coach, he's a great dude. I know my wife really loved his wife. We're really excited to get out there."
View photos of linebacker Kyler Fackrell.
Fackrell isn't certain exactly how Graham will deploy him, but he is confident the coordinator will call on him to use his varied skills.
"As a 3-4 outside linebacker, I like to rush," Fackrell said. "That's what I prefer to do. But I definitely recognize the value in being able to drop from the outside linebacker position and having kind of that versatility. That's something that is a big deal for me, to be able to be in space and to try to make plays just as much as rushing the passer."
Fackrell had fewer opportunities to chase quarterbacks last season. Although he had a double-digit sack total two years ago, the Packers re-staffed at edge rusher in 2019. They signed free agents Preston Smith and Za'Darius Smith and used their first-round draft choice to secure outside backer Rashan Gary. The trio combined for 27.5 sacks, all but two by the Smiths.
Fackrell was the odd man out. According to Pro Football Reference, his defensive snaps dropped from 623 in 2018 to 415 last year. His tackle totals plummeted from 52 to 19 and he finished the season with just one sack. But Fackrell insists the numbers aren't indicative of his effectiveness.
"Obviously, it wasn't ideal," Fackrell said of the reduced playing time. "It was kind of difficult kind of just going in and out, not really being able to play a solid block and get a feel for the game and kind of get in a flow. But honestly, I learned a lot that year from those guys and from our coach. Even just kind of seeing the turnaround in the organization, that was definitely a great learning experience. Even though the stats were not like they were before, honestly, I know that I was a better player last year than I was the year before. I think that I got better. I kind of just was like, 'It is what it is.' It's kind of the nature of the business."
The Packers went 13-3 and advanced to the NFC Championship Game, where they lost to San Francisco. It was the second time in four years their season ended one game shy of the Super Bowl. But like his personal situation, Fackrell can bring to the Giants that useful experience.
"We really struggled the two previous years (winning 13 combined games), so getting a first-round bye with a 13-3 record and to the NFC Championship were all great experiences," Fackrell said. "It was frustrating the way the game went and the way they were able to run the ball on our defense. It's definitely motivation. I feel like it's a good learning experience as far as seeing what needs to be done. You can see what you have to have in working and practicing to be able to get to that level, and just the energy. I could feel a big difference in the energy and the camaraderie in the locker room this year compared to previous years. That's a big thing, the connection that the players have in the locker room. That's something that I think is going to be big and something that I think I can help contribute to the locker room with the Giants."
Fackrell is thrilled to be joined on his new team by Martinez. Both are Arizona natives who played at out-of-state colleges, got their NFL start in Green Bay and they will soon wear Giants blue together.
"I actually met Blake at the Senior Bowl," Fackrell said. "We were drafted the same year and we were roommates during training camp all four years we were there. Blake is a great dude. He's a great player. I'm excited to be able to play with him again. He's a great leader in the middle, kind of controlling and directing traffic and getting the calls to all the different parts of the defense. I was really excited that we were able to kind of move on to the same place."
This is a blessed and thrilling time for Fackrell. He and his wife, Elizabeth, celebrated the birth of their son, Benjamin, eight weeks ago tomorrow. Benjamin joins sisters Delany and Lucy. As soon as they are able, the Fackrells will move to New Jersey.
"It's definitely going to be very different than Green Bay, I know that," he said. "I've already seen that in looking for housing. But we're excited. My sister and her husband lived in the northeast for a while. They lived in New York for a little bit and they lived in Boston. We visited them. It's beautiful. We're excited. It's definitely a change in pace, but we're always excited for new adventures. To be in that area of the country, we're very, very excited."