The Packers have been a long time since they’ve had an All Pro player inside. decades, in fact.
It was a position that, for the most part, was not strongly emphasized by the Hazmat. They tried a few mid-round picks and fell for occasional re-tread, hoping someone would catch one.
Last year, one of them finally did.
Long after the 2021 free-agent season kicked off, months into the draft, on June 10, Packers signed de Funder Campbell. A former fourth-round pick, Campbell was solid, yet unsurprising, for his time with the Hawks and Cardinals. He played for Green Bay with little fanfare, but Joe Barry’s scheme played to his strengths and responded with an All Pro season.
Campbell was the first All Pro insider the Packers had since Ray Nietzsche in 1966…that’s 27 years before Campbell was born.
When the Packers re-signed with Campbell earlier this season, their problems at the quarterback appeared to have been resolved.
But the Hazm haven’t finished building their inner linebacker group.
They shocked the draft when they picked inside linebacker Quay Walker with the 22nd overall pick. Most draft analysts (that is, people who were not paid by NFL teams for spotting players) got Walker much later, some even classing him as a day three possibility.
But the packs liked Walker’s physical abilities. Campbell’s only notable items in the collection can be measured in terms of altitude and speed. Walker is hair better in both…and much better in every other measurable thing. In short, Walker (with a RAS Score 9.66) is one of the best quarterbacks ever tested, ranking first with 3.5% of potential linebackers in the history of the collection.
The Packers now have two big, physical insiders with a sideline speed sideline and ability cap.
This is something the team never had.
Before Campbell’s arrival, they ran with Christian Kirksey and Chris Barnes, who I’d best describe as “serviceable.”
Before that, they relied on Blake Martinez, who was a constant presence in the middle but lacked the range of Campbell-Walker and had guys like PJ Goodson and Jake Ryan lining up at his side.
You could argue that Clay Matthews might have been better as an inside back, but he was put there out of desperation and pushed alongside Nate Palmer.
AJ Hawk had been an impressive quarterback for years before that. But, despite his persistence, he never demonstrated the dynamic ability we saw from De’Vondre Campbell last year. His fellow running mates over the years have included men such as Sam Barrington, Brad Jones and Desmond Bishop. Bishop may have been Hawk’s best duo of his time in Green Bay, but he was a hitter and just didn’t have the range that Campbell-Walker would bring to the table.
In terms of floor coverage, Nick Barnett may be the closest thing the Packers have had to these guys in a while, but his 4.67 is still noticeably slower than Campbell (4.58) or Walker (4.52). Barnett was a great slasher who could cover the sidelines for sidelining, but he came at the end of a streak of 4-3 alignment, and even if you put him in the same class as Campbell, the Packers didn’t have a pair like this. We have to go back to Favre’s early years and before finding defenses that ran with two midfielders. When we do that, we find groups like Johnny Holland, George Koncy, and Brian Noble. These were all good players.
But they weren’t all professional stuff like De’Vondre Campbell, nor were they sports freaks like Walker.
If you want to delve deeper into the Dark Ages, you’ll find names like Randy Scott, John Dorsey (who was more accomplished off the field than he was on the field), George Combe, Rich Wingo, and Ed O. Neil (not the same from Married With Children, though – this guy actually signed with the Steelers).
If you keep looking, you’ll come back to the last Packers All Pro player inside the linebacker: Ray Nitschke, who was a man among the boys (and more athletic than he got). But, like Barnett, he was a quarterback, and the Packers didn’t have two players like this. This was a different kind of defense and a different kind of game.
Campbell and Walker are a perfect fit for what the game has evolved into: they can blast running gaps, chase corner kicks, get back in coverage, and even blitz.
This will allow players more flexibility in their basic defense with less chance of miscommunication and less need for substitutions, which will make it difficult for opponents to play matching matches or plot around them.
You can’t plan around two top athletes who can do it all.
The beams did not have this before.
Now they do.
I can’t wait to see the results.