The linebacker position has seen a severe depreciation in recent years. Once upon a time, a defense wasn’t considered complete unless it had a potent linebacking corps. Now, defense is often played with just two, or one, linebacker on the field.
It isn’t that linebackers are getting worse, so much as offenses are getting that much faster. As a result, teams just don’t draft as many of them, and when they do, they look more like safeties from a decade ago.
Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell looks to be an outlier in that trend. Campbell not only has an excellent “linebacker” name, but he has throwback size and modern athleticism.
Fans of the New York Giants have been begging their team to draft a linebacker highly for years — decades — now. Their defense didn’t place much importance on the linebacker position in 2022, but it still sorely missed a three-down linebacker last year. Could Campbell solve that problem?
Games Played: 34
Tackles for a loss: 12.5
Forced fumbles: 3
Passes defensed: 10
Games Played: 13
Tackles for a loss: 5.5
Forced fumbles: 1
Passes defensed: 1
Best: Size, athleticism, football IQ and mental processing, run defense, playmaking
Worst: Instincts, man coverage
Projection: A starting inside or middle linebacker with scheme diversity.
(Campbell is Iowa LB number 31)
Iowa’s Jack Campbell is a big, athletic, active, and smart linebacker prospect.
Campbell has rare size for a modern off-ball linebacker at 6-foot 4 ⅝ inches, 249 pounds. But despite his size, he is a very good athlete for the position with good short-area quickness and an impressive closing burst.
Campbell was usually aligned as an off-ball inside linebacker in Iowa’s defense and is an active communicator from that position. He is a very smart linebacker who usually does a good job of quickly reading and diagnosing the play. Likewise, he’s a very disciplined defender who knows his role in the defense and isn’t going to compromise the integrity of the defense as a whole by freelancing. He does a good job of keeping his eyes in the backfield throughout the play and flies to the ball once he commits to a course of action.
He has an excellent closing burst, which he uses in run defense and as a coverage player. Campbell makes good use of his size and length when taking on blockers. He generally puts himself in position to leverage the ball before stacking, shedding, and making a play off of the blocker. He also closes the distance to ball carries in a hurry and arrives with bad intentions. Campbell is a hard hitter who wraps up and drives though the ball carrier, getting them on the ground while minimizing yards after contact.
Campbell is surprisingly rangy in space thanks to that burst and his lateral quickness. He does a good job of letting the quarterback guide him to the ball, and he has a good feel for playing the ball in the air. He uses his length and lower-body explosiveness well to high-point the ball, or closing down and making the tackle in space.
Campbell is a smart linebacker who processes quickly on tape, but he appears to be more of a “read and react” defender than a truly instinctive linebacker. Campbell doesn’t consistently take an accurate first step, instead waiting to see the direction of the play before moving. His processing speed and overall athleticism compensated for the slight delay in action at the collegiate level, but the increased speed and complexity of NFL offense could cause him problems early in his career.
Campbell was also prone to biting hard on misdirection and being pulled far out of position. That, obviously, hurt his ability to effectively defend the play and slowed him down.
He also has some slight stiffness in his hips. It’s understandable considering his height and weight, but Campbell needs a moment to gather himself when changing directions. Likewise, he has a great closing burst but lacks long speed. Because of those factors, he could struggle to cover athletic tight ends and running backs at the NFL level.
Campbell blitzed fairly frequently in Iowa’s scheme, but is still a work in progress in that regard. He doesn’t deal with blockers hands well as a pass rusher, which slows down his rushes and prevents him from being a truly disruptive player.
Overall Grade: 8.0
Jack Campbell projects as a starting inside or middle linebacker at the NFL level, depending on the exact nature of the scheme into which he’s drafted.
Campbell should be able to play in any defense called at the NFL level and be a three-down player. He’s better against the pass than most linebackers his size, is a force against the run, and has upside as a pass rusher. Campbell still has areas of his game in need of development and his best football is likely still ahead of him.
Campbell needs to get better at dealing with blockers’ hands as a pass rusher. His play in run defense suggests that he has a high ceiling there despite some tentative play when rushing in college. Campbell also needs to work on becoming a more instinctive linebacker, or at least not biting hard on misdirection. He processes information quickly and wastes no time coming downhill once he decides on a course of action. However, he still needs time to read and diagnose the offense before getting into motion.
Campbell might not have the upside against a modern offense as some other linebackers, but few other linebackers have as high of a floor as Campbell does. He’s easy to label as a “throwback”, but Jack Campbell isn’t the pure down-hill thumper his frame would suggest. He can play, and start, in a modern defense.