There will be a lot of positions thrown around amongst the Chargers’ biggest needs during this draft season.
One position that won’t get enough spotlight due to an apparent lack of value Brandon Staley holds in it is inside linebacker. Today, I want to talk to you about this year’s Dick Butkus Award winner, Iowa’s Jack Campbell.
(Yes, Iowa. I’m letting all the bias out.)
Last one for tonight.— Reason (@the_real_reason) February 7, 2023
My LB man crush is Jack Campbell out of Iowa.
He’s instinctual, athletic, strong coverage skills, great ability to finish in open space and perfect for a lot of the zone bases Fangio will run.
He was the best Iowa player vs Ohio St. this year too. #finsup pic.twitter.com/1tOxFIpDSy
- School: Iowa
- Height: 6’5
- Weight: 246
- 2022 stats: 125 total tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, one sack, two interceptions, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery
- Career stats: 299 total tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, five interceptions, two defensive touchdowns, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries
- Accolades: Dick Butkus Award (2022), William V. Campbell Trophy (2022), Unanimous All-American (2022), Nagurski-Woodson Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year (2022), Butkus-Fitzgerald Big Ten Linebacker of the Year (2022), First-Team All-Big Ten (2021, 2022)
Campbell didn’t start to bloom for the Hawkeyes until his junior year. In his first two seasons with the Hawkeyes, he totaled just 34 tackles, three tackles for loss, one sack, one interception, and three pass breakups. After stepping into a starting role in 2021, Campbell broke out for a career high 140 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, another sack, two picks, and two defensive touchdowns.
He followed that up with another productive season where he led the Hawks defense to a second-ranked placement in points and yards allowed per game.
Campbell’s intangibles are off the charts, and that’s all while acknowledging that intangibles aren’t even something that can be measured. As a leader, his hight effort and motor were on display every single play he was one the field for the Hawkeyes. If there was a ball-carrier to be caught, he was usually in on the pile whenever the dust settled.
At his size, Campbell is a bit of a throwback to the position. Today’s modern NFL linebackers range anywhere from 6’0 to 6’3, but Campbell’s 6’5 frame makes him stand out at the second level like a sore thumb.
In coverage, Campbell’s instincts serve him well as a hook/curl defender and his excellent pursuit angles help him limit plays to the flat. When I turn on the film, it’s amazing watching in real time how Campbell reads the eyes of the quarterback before baiting him to make a bad decision while throwing over the middle.
Campbell’s skillset fits so well at the next level, but it’s okay if you find him to be a bit boring at the same time. A sure-tackler with good, not great, athleticism that possesses elite fundamentals and feel for the game is a good thing. You just have to be okay with him getting the job done without having to do it in some flashy manner.
Sometimes, a player at a position of need isn’t good enough for some teams. They need a freak athlete who also plays a position of need so they can bank on his high upside at the same time. That doesn’t always work out, however.
Kenneth Murray was one of the most athletic linebackers coming out of his draft class. After a productive career filled with “WOW” plays at Oklahoma, the Chargers were persuaded to trade back into the first round to select him. Now, three years into his career, he’s just now becoming a serviceable player, but still far from his first-round billing.
I’m burying the lede here a bit, but all of this is to say that some teams may be turned off by Campbell’s lack of elite athletic traits. He doesn’t run like a deer and he isn’t seen jumping out of the gym. Evaluators note tightness through his hips and that tells scouts he’ll likely have trouble in coverage at the next level, especially in man coverage assignments.
Round Prediction: Second
Campbell has one of the highest floors at his respective position in the draft. The Hawkeyes have a decent list of linebackers who came into the NFL as mid to late-round draft picks that found themselves contributing early for their respective teams.
Guys like Christian Kirksey, Anthony Hitchens, Joey Jewell, and Ben Niemann come to mind.
NFL clubs shouldn’t overthink this. The combination of what Campbell brings to a defense, and locker room, doesn’t come around all that often.