Inside Linebackers: Here’s the eighth of a series of articles, looking specifically at the NFL combine and the Packers’ drafting tendencies. (Read here for the rationale for this series, here for quarterbacks, here for running backs, here for wide receivers, here for tight ends, here for offensive tackles, here for offensive interior linemen, here for defensive ends and here for outside linebackers). This article will use the combine numbers from previous players drafted by GM Ted Thompson as a guide for what inside linebackers are likely to fit into the Packers’ scheme.
Again, this is merely an attempt to make a best guess based on statistics at which players the Packers might be interested in, game tape naturally trumps combine numbers, so take all of this with a grain of salt. But I believe it will make for some interesting discussion. Also listed below are also two inside linebackers in this year’s draft who I think fit the Packers scheme the best, based on their combine numbers.
Statistics of inside linebackers linemen drafted by the Packers:
What the Packers are looking for: If its possible to have too much talent at a position in the NFL, the Packers epitomize it with their inside linebackers. Nick Barnett, Brandon Chillar, AJ Hawk and Desmond Bishop are all starting caliber inside linebackers and their contracts live up to it. The Packers have invested over $110 million into the inside linebackers with about $30 million of that guaranteed. Needless to say, that’s quite an investment for one position.
The conundrum facing the Packers at the moment is that they like all four of their opening day inside linebackers, but they can’t afford to pay them all; of the four, AJ Hawk and Desmond Bishop received big contracts after playing in the Super Bowl and are the designated starters; this leaves Brandon Chillar and Nick Barnett, who both ended up on IR, looking in from the outside. Will Barnett and/or Chillar still be with the team in 2011? Economically the answer is probably no.
This in my opinion is one of the unheralded positions that will likely be addressed during the draft; one or two inside linebackers might be gone to clear up some cap space and Thompson’s MO is to find talent in the draft or after in free agency. However, the biggest question that everyone wants to know is, will we nab Casey Matthews, Clay’s little brother? (Or at least the Clay Matthews’ fanboy in me wants to know) Well, let’s find out.
The drills that inside linebackers have the lowest relative standard deviation (thus implying highest importance) are height, weight and 3-cone. The Packers like their inside linebackers to be a little smaller than their outside linebackers (ironically making AJ Hawk fit better as a inside rather than an outside linebacker, and many have claimed that Hawk has performed better as a inside linebacker); this could possibly be because they must have the range to cover and also because inside linebackers have to be even more versatile than outside linebackers; often outside linebackers threaten to go into coverage, while inside linebackers actually do it. 3-cone also makes a lot of sense, as it measures a player’s flexibility and ability to change direction at high speeds, all important factors for players who need to sift through traffic to get to the ball carrier.
As for specific skills, leadership is perhaps the most important characteristic for an inside linebacker, if there is a quarterback on the defense it usually is an inside linebacker; Nick Barnett took that responsibility (and the radio) before he went on IR and AJ Hawk did a brilliant job replacing him as a signal caller; there were many occasions where calls didn’t come down fast enough from Dom Capers and Hawk was forced to make his own calls based on the situation. You can see Hawk often facing the wrong way at the beginning of plays as he’s still relaying information to the secondary, but still manages to turn around, analyze the play and make a stop.
So how does Casey Matthews stack up? Actually pretty favorably; he’s a bit lighter than the Packers like (but that is easily remedied), and his height actually buts him on par with AJ Hawk and his 3-cone drill is right in line with the rest of the inside linebackers. Could the Packers have 2 C. Matthews (or even 3 C. Matthews) on the defense at some point? I doubt it, but it sure would be a funny to see how broadcasters handled it.
Comparable inside linebackers in the 2011 draft (analysis taken from NFL.com):
Casey Matthews Oregon/6’1”/231 lbs/4.79 40-yard dash/ 7.10 3-cone:
- Impressive Instincts
- Non-stop motor
- Good in coverage
- Lacks size and strength for the NFL
- Not a sideline to sideline player
- Isn’t a pass rusher
Colin McCarthy Miami/6’1”/238 lbs/4.59 40-yard dash/6.39 3-cone:
- Ideal bulk and size for a inside linebacker
- Good awareness
- Good tackler
- Coming from a serious injury in 2008
- Can play undisciplined at times
- Lacks coverage skills
Note*: I should mention that I have no idea why a player listed at 6’1”/231 pounds is considered too small for a position while 6’1”/238 pounds is ideal. Your skin alone weighs 7 pounds. Is someone top or bottom heavy or something?
Conclusion: My feeling is that while an outside linebackers has a good chance of being picked early, there’s also a very good chance that a middle linebacker will be chosen late. I don’t think its financially possible for the Packers to retain all four of their big contract inside linebackers and either someone gets traded or someone will get cut, its just a matter of when and who. Regardless, young talent would make sense to fill in the gap; obviously you have two quality starters and a likely quality backup so the next inside linebacker can go the Desmond Bishop route and develop slowly. Players like Matthews and McCarthy are mid to low round talents who could provide value and depth for the future.——————
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.