Third year outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott has dominated in his first two NFL preseasons. The raw but undeniably talented pass-rusher has been one of the hottest players in training camp and exhibition games for the past two years. Undrafted out of Toledo, Elliott has become one of the more notable diamonds-in-the-rough found by General Manager Ted Thompson. Due to the Packers’ depth at the position, however, Elliott has found himself listed as a third string linebacker in his two seasons with the Packers. His actual playing time in the regular season has been limited.
All of that may change in 2016, however. Outside linebackers Mike Neal and Nick Perry are both unrestricted free agents. Veteran starter Julius Peppers may or may not return to the team. And while Head Coach Mike McCarthy wants to move Clay Matthews from inside linebacker back to the outside, the position looks to be headed for a bit of a shakeup. It’s likely that at least Neal or Perry will be gone, and even if Peppers returns, he’s 36 and will likely need to be spared to keep him fresh.
While the team will certainly look to the draft to fill holes, Elliott should be the first man up to do so. It is highly unlikely that the Packers will find a player ready to step up and contribute like Elliott. He has great athletic ability and two years of experience in Dom Capers’ defense.
In his limited playing time, Elliott has really come into his own. In 2014, after being perhaps the most talked about rookie in training camp, Elliott appeared in 13 games but finished with a modest 14 total tackles with 0 sacks. In 2015 Elliott earned himself more playing time after another productive camp. The extra playing time paid dividends on the field. Elliott finished with 24 total tackles, 3 sacks, 2 passes defensed, an interception, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. Elliott appears to have the same sort of play-making ability and nose for the ball that Peppers is known for.
Elliott could become a staple of this defense in the coming years, but he will be playing in 2016 on the last year of his rookie contract. In 2017, Elliott will be a restricted free agent, meaning that he can test the open market but the Packers will have a chance to match any offer that he receives. And while it might be tempting to keep Elliott’s playing time modest in an attempt to keep other teams from inflating the price it will take to keep him, the organization also needs to give him a long look so as to be able to determine if he’s worth resigning. Right now, it certainly seems that he is.
It remains to be seen how effective Elliott can be outside of his current role as a pass-rush specialist, but it would be highly advantageous for the Packers to find out. Elliott’s numbers compare quite favorably to that of Neal and Perry, especially when their greater playing time is factored in. The Packers need to bump Elliott up the depth chart and get him on the field as if he were the #3 outside linebacker on the roster, behind Clay and Peppers. He doesn’t need to play to the exclusion of Perry, Neal, or any incoming rookies, but with his upside, it’s time to give him the nod.
Can't wait to takeover this league…
— Jayrone Elliott (@Jay_Elliott15) February 21, 2016
Taylor O\'Neill is a Packer fan born and raised in Oshkosh, WI. He currently lives in Florida and is pursuing his PhD. Taylor is a writer with PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TaylorONeill87 for more Packer news.