While it was far from the biggest move the Las Vegas Raiders have made during free agency, the Raiders' signing of edge defender Kyler Fackrell is an intriguing one.
In 2018, Fackrell had a 10.5-sack season which has perked some interest within the fanbase about what he might be able to bring to Las Vegas. And while he’s only had 10 sacks in the three seasons since then, the former Charger did record a 72.7 PFF Pass Rush grade — 34th-best among edges — and 14.1 percent pass rush win rate that ranked 53rd.
Those numbers might not be jumping off the page, but it’s hard to ask for much more from a rotational rusher than to finish in the top half of the position for your primary responsibility.
So, we know Fackrell brings some pass-rush skills to the table, but what exactly does that look like, and where does he need to get better?
Pass Rush Clips
We’ll start our film session off with Fackrell’s strength, rushing the passer. What jumped off the tape fairly quickly is his ability to turn speed to power and our first couple of clips illustrate that well.
Fackrell is aligned as a the right standup outside linebacker in a wide technique outside the tight end/slot receiver Dalton Schultz (89) and Ezekiel Elliot (21). He works at a diagonal angle to attack the left tackle, Tyron Smith, and Fackrell does a good job of getting to square on Smith so that Smith still has to honor an inside pass rush move.
The pass rusher is then aggressive with his hands and gets them right to the tackle’s chest to gain control. At this point, he’s taking the fight to the offensive lineman and has the lineman guessing as to where he’s going because he gave himself a two-way go by getting to square.
What Fackrell does that’s impressive is instead of trying to go straight through Smith’s chest, Fackrell uses his agility and quickness to get on an edge win to the outside. He’s also violent with his hands here to get Smith off balance and shed the block.
To top it all off, Fackrell uses his arms to pin Dak Prescott’s arms down and not only prevent the throw from happening but also force a fumble. You can’t ask for much more than that from a pass rusher.
This next clip is similar to the last one, but this time we’re going to see the new Raider win on the inside.
He’s aligned at the right outside backer spot again, but he’s a little tighter without the reduced split slot receiver and the running back lined up as a wing-tight end. Fackrell uses that to his advantage by working up the field initially — instead of having to take that more diagonal path — and getting Smith to open his hips a bit to the outside.
This time his hand placement is even better and completely inside the tackle’s which, combined with great leg drive, allows him to put the tackle on skates and gain control of the rep. Watch how Smith ends up on his heels shortly after contact.
Fackrell works to get on an edge again but to the inside this time since Smith has his hips turned. There’s no sack on this one since Prescott gets the ball to his check down in time, but this is another quality rep and a win for the rusher.
How about one more rep for good measure?
Fackrell is on the left side this time and like the previous clip, he’s going to sell vertical with his first few steps. He does give the tackle — James Hudson (66) — a little shake/stem to the inside to keep Hudson guessing, but what’s really impressive to me is how Fackrell uses his hand(s) to win.
He gets his inside hand right to the V of the neck of the tackle and uses one arm, or what’s called a longarm, to get extension and get the offensive lineman’s hands off of him. There’s a saying in defensive line play that “one arm is longer than two” and that’s exactly what the former Charger is taking advantage of here. Plus, he works to get on an edge again and flushes Baker Mayfield out of the pocket.
Kyler Fackrell (ROLB) defeats the hands and defeats the man with his hand swipe move pic.twitter.com/bbsrYY0oAz— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) March 24, 2022
While this isn't a huge part of his game, I do want to show Fackrell winning as a pass rusher beyond working off a bull rush or turning speed to power.
Here, he executes a beautiful hand swipe move to win on the inside. The consistent theme here is he does a good job of selling the outside with his first few steps to help set up an inside move. After that, there’s not much to it other than he just uses his quickness and has great timing with his swipe to “defeat the hands and defeat the man”. Unfortunately, the ball is out too quickly for anything to come of it but this is a beautiful move.
I’ve got to mix in some bad with the good and while this rep is a tough one, it’s also one that Fackrell probably wants back. He gets chipped and put on his butt by Nick Chubb (24) essentially because he didn’t anticipate it coming. While it’s tough to play the chip and still get a rush, he has to do a better job of anticipating as there were a couple of indicators.
The first is the motion to take Chubb out of the backfield and into the slot in with a reduced split where he’s only a few yards wider than the tackle. The second is Chubb’s feet in his stance. If he were just releasing on a route, his inside foot would likely be up but in this case, his outside foot is forward so that he can get a better angle on the block. It’s subtle but these are the types of pre-snap keys pass rushers need to look for to help anticipate chip blocks coming from slot receivers.
And from a pure pride/ego standpoint, as a defensive lineman/edge rusher, you can’t let a running back do this to you, regardless of how good they are. I’m sure this clip got played on a loop in the meeting room the next day...
Run Defense Clips
Defending the run is definitely a weak spot in Fackrell’s game. He earned a 55.0 run defense grade from PFF last season and has only had one season above the 60 mark — a 66.0 in 2020 — in six seasons.
We’ll start with the negatives in the run game so that we end on a high note, and one of my biggest concerns with him as a run defender is his ability to key and diagnose plays.
Fackrell's (ROLB) gotta get his eyes inside when unblocked to see the cut block coming pic.twitter.com/zfvPXRD7sq— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) March 24, 2022
The Cowboys are running a split zone here and it’s Fackrell’s job to see the “puller” or tight end — Dalton Schultz (86) — coming on the wham block and get underneath it. However, Fackrell gets caught with his eyes in the backfield instead of inside or down the line to see Schultz coming.
Because of that, the Fackrell has little to no chance to play the cut block — the element of surprise is part of what makes the cut block effective so without seeing it, it’s nearly impossible to defend — and ends up going down like a tree in a lumberjack yard.
Fackrell's (ROLB) gotta squeeze when he's unblocked against zone runs, which opens up a cutback lane for Chubb to get 5-6 i/o just 1-2 yards pic.twitter.com/Nd4UluNmGp— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) March 24, 2022
This next clip is another example of the six-year vet being a little slow to decipher the offense’s play call.
When he’s unblocked on the backside of a zone run, he has to do a better job of recognizing that and squeezing down the line of scrimmage. What I mean by “squeezing” is working down the line of scrimmage, with his shoulders parallel to the line, to reduce the space for a backside cutback lane.
However, watch what Fackrell does. He doesn’t move horizontally much and that creates a lot of space between him and the backside tight end — Austin Hooper (81). The play side of the defensive does a good enough job plugging their gaps so Chubb looks to cut it back. Where does Chubb end up running? Right where Fackrell should be.
It’s a little thing but that’s the difference between him making the tackle and limiting this play to a one- or two-yard gain, and the offense getting a five- to six-yard chunk run. That will frustrate the hell out of any defensive coordinator.
I do like how Kyler Fackrell (LOLB) can set the edge vs TEs pic.twitter.com/WEIKIdSFfC— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) March 24, 2022
As promised, we’ll end on some good vibes and one element about Fackrell’s game as a run defender that I like is his ability to set the edge against tight ends.
He’s going against Hooper here and he attacks Hooper with great physicality, pad level and similar hand placement to what we saw with his bull right, tight and inside. All of that allows Fackrell to get leverage on the block and reset the tight end. Because of that, Chubb doesn’t have a lane to the outside so he has to cut it up and the edge defender has effectively done his job.
The only problem for the defense is the four-technique gets washed past the standup outside backer, but luckily, that guy doesn’t play for the Raiders and still plays for the Chargers, so that’s their problem!