Part 7, LB: Iowa’s Jack Campbell is the standard
A big linebacker who can run is rare in today's game. That could push Campbell, described by one scout as "Brian Urlacher," into the first round. Bob McGinn's series continues with the linebackers.
This is the 39th year that Bob McGinn has written an NFL Draft Series. Previously, it appeared in the Green Bay Press-Gazette (1985-’91), the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (1992-’17), BobMcGinnFootball.com (2018-’19), The Athletic (2020-’21) and, now, GoLongTD.com (2022-’23). Until 2014, many personnel people were quoted by name. The series reluctantly adopted an all-anonymous format in 2015 at the request of many scouts. The 12-minute, 50-question Wonderlic test no longer is administered at the NFL combine. Players generally took the test at spring 2022 timing days, all-star games and pro days in March and April. The NFL average score is about 19.
Used to be that the ability “to take on blocks,” “stuff the run” and “knock somebody’s head off” made or broke an inside linebacker in the National Football League.
That style of football is a distant memory, with teams hunting for linebackers that can run around the field, slip blocks and, most vitally, contribute in coverage.
“Nobody cares about size anymore,” a veteran personnel man said. “If you can’t run, forget it.”
This class of inside linebackers largely bears that out. Eight of the top 10 at the position, on average, stand 6-1 ¾, weigh 230.7 pounds and run the 40-yard dash in 4.57 seconds.
“With all the passing going on today you sacrifice some physicality to cover,” another seasoned scout said. “In the old days we always looked for guys that could step up, take guys on and shed.”
Two of the top-10 prospects this year stand out because of their old-school size and surprising speed. Iowa’s Jack Campbell (6-4 ½, 251) and Oregon’s Noah Sewell (6-1 ½, 247) each ran the 40 in 4.71 seconds. They also combined to start 58 games and record 520 tackles as leaders of their defenses.
Defensive coordinators still have an urgent need to stop the run. Especially in the case of Campbell, maybe teams can have it all — run stop, pass cover, call the defense — by drafting him.
“You’re getting that 6-1, 6-2, 225-, 230-pound linebacker who can run well enough in a guy with a 6-5, 250-pound package,” an evaluator said. “In meetings guys will say, ‘Well, I don’t know if he’s athletic enough?’ When you look at Jack Campbell we all have a tendency to say, ‘Well, he’s going to be a two-down guy.’ This guy was a very good athlete. Hell of a football player.”