Unpacking Future Packers: No. 31, Western Michigan Edge Marshawn Kneeland

The Unpacking Future Packers Countdown is a countdown of 100 prospects that could be selected by the Green Bay Packers in the 2024 NFL draft.

Rashan Gary, Lukas Van Ness, Preston Smith, Kingsley Enagabare, Brenton Cox Jr. That’s a solid foundation of edge rushers that the Green Bay Packers have in place. 

Even with those pieces in place, a team can never have enough talented edge rushers. That’s why it would not be shocking to see Brian Gutekunst add another body to the mix during the 2024 NFL Draft.

A potential target on Day 2 of the upcoming draft is Marshawn Kneeland. The Western Michigan defensive end checks in at No. 31 in the Unpacking Future Packers Countdown.

A Michigan native, Kneeland recorded two sacks during his first season on campus. The following season Kneeland recorded 8.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. During the 2022 campaign, Kneeland recorded 10 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. In his final season as a Bronco, Kneeland recorded 57 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. 

Along with being a standout on the gridiron at Godwin Heights High School, Kneeland competed in track and field. The Western Michigan product showcased his athleticism at the NFL Scouting Combine when he posted a 35.5-inch vertical, a 9-11 broad jump, a short shuttle of 4.18 and a 3-cone time of 7.02. 

“Marshawn Kneeland’s greatest strength is his pure athleticism at the defensive end position,” Steve Helwick, a contributor for SB Nation’s Hustle Belt, said. “He moves incredibly fast for his 6 ‘3”, 267-pound frame and possesses top-notch agility for the position in this draft class. Kneeland’s sack totals at Western Michigan may not jump out on the page, but he catapulted his draft stock by exhibiting one of the best combine performances in Indianapolis, earning elite grades in a multitude of events including vertical jump, broad jump, 40-yard dash, shuttle, and 3-cone drill. These types of athletes aren’t exactly a dime a dozen, and his combine performance showed why Kneeland could potentially land in the second round.”

Kneeland is the Energizer Bunny on steroids. He rushes the quarterback with non-stop energy. He has powerful, active hands that he utilizes to get into the chest plate of offensive linemen and drive them back with his power. To go along with his 4.5 sacks, Kneeland recorded 37 pressures this past season. 

“Kneeland offers an impressive mixture of speed and power as a pass rusher, showing an excellent ability to explode through blockers with his leg drive,” Helwick said. “Kneeland placed quarterbacks under duress quite often at Western Michigan last fall but didn’t always finish the job. Possessing a lower sack total than other defensive ends in the conference landed him on the All-MAC Second Team as opposed to the First Team, but he has all the tools available to improve his pass-rushing at the next level. Using his power to follow through and finish tackles, as well as enhancing his technique can make him an all-around lethal defensive end upon reaching the NFL. Considering all the pressures he generated in Kalamazoo, his potential to thrive as a pass rusher is clear.”

Kneeland is powerful at the point of attack and stays balanced. He sets a firm edge and holds his ground. He does a good job of using his long arms to keep himself clean and forklift offensive linemen out of the way. Over the past two seasons, Kneeland recorded 17.5 tackles for loss and 59 run stops (PFF). 

“Containing the run is Kneeland’s calling card on the field,” Helwick said. “Kneeland knows how to set the edge very well, and with his top-tier speed for a defensive end, he can keep pace with running backs directed toward the boundary. He’s never really out of a play, showing tremendous ability to recover from a good block or being out of position. The combination of speed and power makes him a stellar tackler against a wide range of running back archetypes, and he demonstrated that facet of his game with 57 tackles last season and 26 tackles for loss across his last three years at Western Michigan.”

Fit with the Packers

The 2024 season could be Smith’s swan song in Green Bay. That will open the door for Van Ness to slide into Smith’s starting role opposite Gary. 

With that potential departure in mind, Gutekunst may add another edge rusher to the mix to make for a more seamless transition. 

Kneeland is adept at putting pressure on the quarterback and is equally as impactful against the run. 

“By drafting Kneeland, an NFL team gets a fantastic foundation of a defensive end to work with,” Helwick said. “Kneeland is exceptional in his speed, agility, strength, and overall athleticism. As previously mentioned, he is a very disruptive run defender and opposing running backs were very aware of his eternal motor in college. There are still refinements needed to his pass-rushing technique such as bend and hand placement, but those are fixable with granular coaching and mentoring at the NFL level. Overall, there is a lot of promise within Kneeland and he can immediately bolster a team’s run defense, and long-term, he can thrive as a premier pass rusher.”

The Packers need to shore up their run defense. That’s a tale as old as time. Kneeland could help remedy Green Bay’s leaky run defense. The Western Michigan product would also give Jeff Hafley another player who can hunt the quarterback. 

With the current roster makeup, Kneeland would likely play sparingly during his rookie season. Fast forward a year and those snaps could see a massive uptick if the 2024 campaign is indeed Smith’s final season in Green Bay. 

With his size, strength and relentless play style, Kneeland has the makings of a disruptive force. Given the fact that the Packers have four picks on Day 2 of the draft, Kneeland could be a potential target in that range, as the Packers look to build a dominant front seven. 

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire