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Iowa’s Jack Campbell offers unique description of what it means to play linebacker

Does college football’s most decorated LB fit on the Giants?

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NFL: Combine Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

There are a lot of words that get thrown around to describe the ideal NFL prospect in the months leading up to the draft. Athletic. Speedy. Powerful.

“Amphibious” might not be the first word that comes to mind when evaluating linebackers, but that’s how Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell described his play style during Wednesday’s Scouting Combine. And really, it’s exactly what the New York Giants lacked from their underwhelming linebacker group last year.

“When I think of amphibious, I think of a frog. You can go in the water, you can go on the land. At linebacker you’ve got to play the run, take on blocks, you’ve got to be able to use your hands,” Campbell said. “You’ve got to be violent back there. But also you’ve got to drop back into coverage ... I have to be able to take on 330-pound guys and defeat them and then go tackle a Nick Chubb. The next play I’m going to have to cover Tyreek Hill. That’s the context I’m talking about.”

The Giants never really had a do-it-all linebacker as they sifted through veterans and younger players last year. Week 1 starters Tae Crowder and Austin Calitro were gone by midseason, and Jaylon Smith and Jarrad Davis were starting in the playoffs. The point being, the team hasn’t had much name recognition at the position since Blake Martinez was released.

Though it remains to be seen how Campbell’s skills will translate to the NFL, he’ll bring a heavy pedigree to whichever team drafts him. Campbell won the 2022 Butkus Award as college football’s best linebacker and took home the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year trophy. He also won the Campbell Trophy, awarded to the most impressive athlete on and off the field.

“Winning the Campbell Trophy, it was the accumulation of doing a lot of small things the right way over a long period of time,” Campbell said. “Consistency will overcome a lot. I’m not the smartest dude in the room academically but somehow I wound up with that award.”

Not all scouts are convinced that Campbell is as “amphibious” as he claims to be. Pro Football Focus has him ranked as the third-best linebacker in the draft, but noted that issues in man-coverage could cause him to slide in the draft. Still, at 6-foot-5 and 243 pounds, he has the size and physicality to be an impressive defender against the run. He projects as a second/third-round prospect.

Here’s what The Draft Network had to say:

Campell is a smart, instinctive, and physical linebacker with top-end intangibles that gives him the makeup of a starting MIKE at the next level, but there are some minor limitations to be mindful of.

Campbell is a sufficient athlete but doesn’t have top-end range. He isn’t likely to consistently perform well if tasked with carrying routes in man coverage. He’s a bit high-hipped, which takes away from his ability to flip his hips, transition, and change directions. Iowa gave him plenty of chances to blitz and shoot gaps but often lacked a plan to beat blocks.

Campbell, though, is confident that the skills that made him so successful at Iowa will translate to the NFL.

“I think you have to stay true to yourself and your fundamentals and then the mental aspect. The mental aspect at linebacker is the most important part to be able to perform at the highest level. I feel like coming from the University of Iowa, coming from a program led by Kirk Ferentz and the way we approach things. I feel like I’ve already come from a pro-level system and how we operate there as an organization. I think that’s going to help me translate my game to the next level.”

There are also concerns with Campbell’s pass-rushing ability, something he readily admitted. Bleacher Report wrote that he “doesn’t have any moves as a pass-rusher. Just runs full speed and tries to run through blockers as a blitzer.”

“I definitely need to improve on rushing the passer,” Campbell said. “That’s a huge area I see I can continue to grow in. At the same time, linebacker is such a fun position ... One play is never like the last. For me I like to be in control a little bit, make sure everyone’s lined up. The way it tests you mentally is you can go out there and mess up a play really bad and feel that sting from that play, but also go make a hell of a play and feel that feeling. So kind of the ups and downs and the emotional roller coaster.”

The Giants have second and third round picks at Nos. 57 and 89. Will Joe Schoen be looking Campbell’s way with one of those selections?