The Packers Have Never Had Inside Linebackers Like This

The Packers have gone a long time since they had an All Pro inside linebacker. Decades, actually.

It was a position that, for the most part, the Packers didn’t emphasize heavily. They tried some mid round picks and they signed a the occasional re-tread, hoping one of them would catch one.

Last year, one finally did.

Long after the 2021 free agent season began, months after the draft, on June 10th, the Packers signed De’Vondre Campbell. A former 4th round pick, Campbell had been solid, but unspectacular, in his time with the Falcons and Cardinals. He game to Green Bay with little fanfare, but Joe Barry’s scheme played to his strengths and he responded with an All Pro season.

Campbell was the first All Pro inside linebacker the Packers had since Ray Nitschke in 1966… ​​which was 27 years before Campbell was born.

When the Packers re-signed Campbell earlier this offseason, their problems at inside linebacker seemed solved.

But the Packers weren’t done building their inside linebacker group.

They shocked draftniks when they selected inside linebacker Quay Walker with the 22nd overall pick. Most draft analysts (ie, people who aren’t paid to scout players by NFL teams) had Walker much later, some even ranking him as a Day 3 prospect.

But the Packers loved Walker’s physical abilities. Campbell’s only notable measurables at the Combine where height and speed. Walker is a hair better in both… and far better in pretty much every other measurable. In short, Walker (with a RAS score of 9.66) is one of the best athletes to ever test at inside linebacker, ranking in the top 3.5% of inside linebacker prospects in Combine history.

The Packers now have two big, physical inside linebackers with sideline to sideline speed and the ability cover.

This is something the team has never had.

Prior to Campbell’s arrival, they ran with Christian Kirksey and Krys Barnes, who I’d best describe as “serviceable.”

Before that, they relied on Blake Martinez, who was a consistent presence in the middle, but lacked the range of Campbell and Walker and had guys like BJ Goodson and Jake Ryan lining up next to him.

You could argue that Clay Matthews may have been better as an inside linebacker, but he was placed there out of desperation and paid next to Nate Palmer.

AJ Hawk manned the middle admirably for years prior to that. But, for as steady as he was, never showed the dynamic ability we saw out of De’Vondre Campbell last year. His running mates over the years include guys like Sam Barrington, Brad Jones, and Desmond Bishop. Bishop was probably the best pairing Hawk had in his time in Green Bay, but he was a thumper and did not have the range that Campbell and Walker bring to the table.

In terms of covering ground, Nick Barnett might be the closest thing the Packers have had to these guys in a while, but his 4.67 speed is still noticeably slower than Campbell (4.58) or Walker (4.52). Barnett was a great slasher who could cover sideline to sideline, but he came at the end of a run of the 4-3 alignment and, even if you put him in the same class as Campbell, the Packers did not have a pair like this . We have to go back to the early Favre years and prior to find the defenses that ran with two inside linebackers. When we do, we find groups like Johnny Holland, George Koonce, and Brian Noble. These were all good linebackers.

But they were not All Pro material like De’Vondre Campbell, nor where they athletic freaks like Walker.

If you want to delve farther back into the dark ages, you’ll find names like Randy Scott, John Dorsey (who has been far more accomplished off the field than he was on the field), George Cumby, Rich Wingo, and Ed O ‘Neill (not the same one from Married With Children, though – that guy actually signed with the Steelers).

If you keep digging, you get all the way back to the Packers last All Pro inside linebacker: Ray Nitschke, who was a man among boys (and more athletic than he gets credit for). But, like Barnett, he was a middle linebacker, and the Packers did not have two players like this. That was a different kind of defense and a different kind of game.

Campbell and Walker are perfectly suited for what the game has evolved to: they can blow up run gaps, chase down corner runs, drop back into coverage, and even blitz.

This will allow the Packers a lot more flexibility in their base defense with less chance for miscommunication and less need for substitutions, which will make it hard for opponents to play match up games or scheme around them.

You can’t scheme around two premier athletes that can do everything.

The Packers never had this.

Now they do.

I can’t wait to see the results.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *