After examining the Packers’ offensive line earlier in the week, it’s time to move back to the defensive side of the ball and look at the Packers’ inside linebackers.
Possibly the biggest surprise of this year’s draft from a Packers perspective is that they did not draft an inside linebacker. With both Alabama’s CJ Mosley and Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier selected before the Packers picked at 21, it’s likely the Packers didn’t believe that any of the other linebackers available would be an upgrade to the ones currently on their roster.
After Tuesday’s signing of Shaun Lewis, the Packers have 7 inside linebackers on the roster, all of whom will fall into one of the categories below.
Impact Players – A potential Pro Bowler who opposing teams need to game plan for.
Solid Starters – An average to slightly above average starter.
Quality Backup/Role Players – A player who can start if needed and may also contribute on special teams. These players may also have some upside and untapped potential.
Not Guaranteed a Roster Spot – A player who may be fighting to make the final 53 man roster.
Here is how I currently rank the Packers’ inside linebackers.
None. The Packers don’t have a true difference maker in their inside linebacker group.
- AJ Hawk – Since being selected with the 5th overall pick in 2006, Hawk has been the Packers most consistent and steady presence on the defensive side of the ball. He has never developed into the dominant force that the Packers might have hoped for, but he knows the defensive playbook and has been able to stay healthy, missing only 2 games during his career. Hawk is coming off what was statistically his best season in years, racking up 118 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 interception and a forced fumble.
Quality Backup/Role Players
- Brad Jones – Originally drafted to play outside linebacker, Jones moved inside in 2012 and played very well, earning a +7.3 grade from Profootballfocus.com as well as a lucrative contract extension. But Jones’ play dipped substantially in 2013, garnering a -6.9 PFF grade. Jones also missed 4 games due to injury, something that has plagued him throughout his career. Jones could find himself fighting to keep his starting spot when the season begins
- Jamari Lattimore – Like Jones, Lattimore started out as an outside linebacker before being moved inside. He started 4 games in place of Jones last season and at times showed that he could possibly develop into a starting caliber inside linebacker, but there were also times where he looked lost, especially in pass coverage. Signed to a 1 year deal, Lattimore could challenge Jones for a starting spot on the defense, and at worst, he should be a core special teams player.
Not Guaranteed a Roster Spot
- Sam Barrington – Although he only played 1 snap on defense in 2013, the Packers are reportedly excited to see what Barrington can do in his 2nd year in their defense. The 7th round pick out of South Florida played in 7 games, mostly on special teams, before being placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. Barrington is by no means a roster lock, but he currently has the inside track at the 4th inside linebacker spot on the Packers’ roster.
- Jake Doughty – An undrafted free agent out of Utah State, Doughty had 148 tackles as a senior, which was 2nd in Division I football. ESPN’s Rob Demovsky wrote earlier in the week that Doughty was one of the undrafted rookies who stood out in OTAs. If I had to pick one linebacker that I think could challenge Barrington for the 4th inside linebacker spot, it would be Doughty.
- Joe Thomas – Thomas was also mentioned as a player that stood out during OTAs according to Demovsky. The undrafted rookie from South Carolina State has a reputation as a heavy hitter, and had 116 tackles, 20 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks during his senior year. If Thomas does not make roster, he may very well make the practice squad.
- Shaun Lewis – Lewis is the newest member of the Packers’ roster, signed earlier in the week after a tryout in May. Lewis was productive at Oklahoma State, starting 45 games with 250 tackles, but at 5’11” and 225 pounds, he is a bit undersized. At this point I would consider Lewis a long shot to make the roster or practice squad.