This is the next in a series of articles providing an in-depth analysis of each position group on the Green Bay Packers. Today, we will examine the inside linebackers.
Click here to see our analysis of the quarterback position. Click here for an in-depth look at the Packers running backs this season. The defensive line analysis can be found here, tight ends here and edge/outside linebackers here.
The grades will be for each unit as a whole, but we will provide analysis of each player, their strengths and weaknesses and a quick breakdown of where they stand heading into the offseason.
The Packers made changes at the inside linebacker position before the 2021 season started. Kamal Martin, a 5th-round pick in 2020, was let go during training camp and the Pack signed free agent De’Vondre Campbell. This change proved beneficial for the Packers.
Here are the grades for the Packers inside linebackers in 2021. The marks are based on a combination of expectations and performance.
The Packers signed De’Vondre Campbell to a one-year deal in June. At the time, the signing got very little attention. It turned out to be one of the most important moves Brian Gutekunst made during the offseason.
Campbell had a career year and was a perfect fit in Joe Barry’s defense. His intelligence and speed helped him be in the right place at the right time and to make plays. Campbell finished the season with a team-leading 146 total tackles, two sacks and six tackles for loss. He also made two key interceptions and called signals for the defense.
Campbell’s speed and smarts allowed him to cover ground against the run and to cover tight ends and running backs out of the backfield. When receivers caught a pass in Campbell’s area, they rarely gained yards after the catch because of Campbell’s positioning and tackling skills.
After the season, Campbell became the first Packers inside linebacker to be named First Team All Pro since Ray Nitschke in 1966.
Campbell is scheduled to be a free agent at the end of the season and the Packers should do everything they can to keep him in Green Bay for 2022 and beyond. Campbell provided the Packers with strong play, leadership and experience at inside linebacker and was the best player the Packers had at the position in more than a decade.
Second-year man Krys Barnes started opposite Campbell. He played in 16 games and made 81 total tackles, recorded one sack, four tackles for loss and broke up four passes. He also recovered two fumbles.
Barnes primarily plays in the base defense and was on the field for 52 percent of the defensive snaps for the season.
Barnes took a step forward in his second season and the former UCLA star has the football smarts to continue to improve despite his average athletic ability.
Oren Burks was the primary backup at inside linebacker and had three starts. He was also a big contributor on special teams where he was one of the team’s leading tacklers. He played 19 percent of the defensive snaps and finished the season with 36 tackles, one fumble recovery, one tackle for loss and half a sack.
Burks never became the impact player on defense that the Packers hoped he would be when the drafted him in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft out of Vanderbilt. Burks’ rookie contract is up after this year and he is an unrestricted free agent. The Packers may welcome him back in a similar role at a reasonable base salary although Burks may want to try to earn a starting spot elsewhere if the opportunity presents itself.
Ty Summers continues to see most of his action on special teams. In his third season, he played 14 games before suffering a season-ending injury. He played 29 snaps on defense as a backup ILB but 270 snaps on special teams.
The former TCU star has yet to prove he can play extensively on defense but he’s under contract for 2022 and will likely be back to compete for a similar role next season.
Rookie Isaiah McDuffie played in 13 games and saw action exclusively on special teams. He was in on two tackles over the course of the season. McDuffie had a strong performance in the final preseason game against Buffalo which helped him make the team. He will be a candidate for a backup job in training camp if he shows progress during the offseason.
The addition of Campbell had a big impact on this group that had been a weakness and a low priority for the Packers for a long time. Keeping Campbell would be a big boost to the team. The Packers will look to add depth here in the offseason and will need a starter if they don’t bring Campbell back.
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