2011 Draft Prep: Green Bay Packers Needs by Position – Outside Linebacker

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In this next installment of our 2011 Draft Prep series looking at the Green Bay Packers’ needs by position, we are going to analyze how the outside linebacker position currently stands. Strengths, weaknesses, depth, and uncertainties will all be examined to determine the urgency of need in regards to next season.

This series is meant to help us figure out the needs of the team and how the draft could be used to improve the weaker areas. While Ted Thompson largely uses the “best player available” (BPA) approach, his decision to trade up or down the board is affected by what position players he would prefer to have. Additionally, the picking up of players in the later rounds and in undrafted free agency is often based on need, since the talent is less defined.


#52 Clay Matthews
24 yrs. old / 2 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2013

#51 Brady Poppinga
31 yrs. old / 6 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2012

#93 Erik Walden
25 yrs. old / 3 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2011

#59 Brad Jones
25 yrs. old / 2 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2012

#47 Diyral Briggs
25 yrs. old / 2 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2011

#58 Frank Zombo
24 yrs. old / 1 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2012

* Contract information acquired from RotoWorld.com


I can’t tell you how many times the past two years that I’ve heard or said, “Clay Matthews is a beast.”

He alone propels this defense to a new level. Opposing offenses work up their game plans in a concentrated effort to take him out of the equation, because he is the biggest threat to the quarterback. Matthews’ motor never stops running, his lightning fast break off the line is a nightmare to blockers, and there’s just something intimidating about that long mane of hair.

Okay, so maybe I made that last one up. But in all seriousness, Clay Matthews boasts 23.5 sacks in his first two seasons with the Packers. Ted Thompson made one of the best moves in his career as a GM by trading up in the 2009 NFL Draft to grab him.

Now, despite the lack of a stud player “opposite Matthews” (as you so often hear), there is a lot of strength in the depth of this unit. The cliché may be that this team won the Super Bowl with the players, but they also made it through the season with them.

And not all at the same time.

Brad Jones, Frank Zombo, and Erik Walden have all shown the ability to get the job done. Each has their own set of strengths and weaknesses, and none of them are near the level of Matthews, but the Packers don’t really have a whole lot to worry about in this department.

Zombo and Walden, after all, combined for a total of 7 sacks in the regular season and 2 in the postseason. Zombo had an additional two forced fumbles, and Jones stuffed two runs for a total of -8 yards.

The talent is clearly present in this outside linebacker group.


Since they started the 2010 offseason programs, the Green Bay Packers seemed to be grasping at straws in an effort to find an outside linebacker that would compliment Clay Matthews. To the dismay of fans everywhere, Thompson didn’t pick an OLB in the draft, limiting their options at the position.

He did, however, sign four undrafted free agents at the linebacker position. Of those four, Frank Zombo was the only one to make the 53-man roster. Zombo also beat out 2009 UDFA Cyril Obiozor for the spot behind Brad Jones.

Even ILB Brandon Chillar was tested (unsuccessfully) at outside linebacker.

But the Packers were still missing a true playmaker to balance out the position, and that is one thing they would do well to address – if possible – in the 2011 draft.

It’s not quite an absolute necessity; nevertheless, having a really great 3-4 defense is contingent on having a great set of outside linebackers. The prime example is the Pittsburgh Steelers with James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. Having a duo like that gives opposing offenses nightmares, because it opens up so many options in rushing and blitzing the quarterback.

The only other real weakness I see right now is Brady Poppinga. He has hit his declining years, gone from starter to backup, and might not even make it to the last year of his contract if the Packers can add some more talent at the position. Poppinga’s age – 32 years old in September – is also a big factor in the equation.


The Packers’ 2010 outside linebacker corps epitomized the “revolving door” metaphor for player injuries. There wasn’t one player who didn’t miss at least one full game due to injury, and most of them missed multiple weeks.

Of the 20 total games, Clay Matthews topped the list with 19 played. Then begins the drop-off.

Frank Zombo ranked second with 14 activations and 9 starts, Erik Walden had 12 activations but just 5 starts, Brad Jones started 5 of his 6 games played, and Brady Poppinga (the only one placed on IR) brought up the rear with just one start in his 6 games played.

In other words, there’s some legitimate concerns about injury.

(In all fairness, Walden could be given as pass in this regard, as he wasn’t around for most of the season, and his injury only caused him to miss one game. The rest of the time was just him getting settled into the system.)

Poppinga’s return is the only other uncertainty. He’s slated to earn slightly over $2 million in 2011, which could be more than the Packers are willing to cough up for his sub-par skills, especially as a backup.

His future might easily depend on Thompson’s ability to find an outside linebacker in the draft, as Jones, Zombo, and Walden seem fit enough to stick around.


The great debate: how much do the Packers really need to take an OLB in the draft?

Both sides have valid arguments. On the one hand, it would be fantastic to have an high-caliber outside rusher that can balance the position. On the other hand, the Packers have some very solid players in Jones, Walden, and Zombo. If they are all healthy at the same time, it could be an even better group.

So to get through this, let’s focus on our specific question in this draft article: what is the urgency of needs for getting an outside linebacker?

Well, I’d have to say the urgency isn’t terribly high. Boasting one superstar and three good players in the position isn’t a bad situation to be in at all. There are, however, two caveats: (1) the 3-4 defense can never have too many high-quality linebackers, and (2) there is a legitimate concern for depth after the injuries this season.

As we saw last year, Ted Thompson will not reach to fill this position. And if a linebacker doesn’t end up in the right spot for the taking, he could very well ignore the position altogether. We could even see a similar situation from last year where some undrafted free agents are brought in to compete.

But getting down to it, the needs for this position are not high. Thompson will have his eyes on the linebackers; he just won’t see it as the end of the world if he doesn’t get one.

*** For further reading, check out “According to Hobbes: Packers Offseason Primer on the NFL Combine: Outside Linebackers” by Thomas Hobbes. ***


Chad Toporski, a Wisconsin native and current Pittsburgh resident, is a writer for AllGreenBayPackers.com. You can follow Chad on twitter at @ChadToporski


16 thoughts on “2011 Draft Prep: Green Bay Packers Needs by Position – Outside Linebacker

  1. i agree that this position is a medium need area. But if there is one position that could take our defense from a very good defense to an absolute elite defense would be a high caliber player opposite clay. It will be very difficult for a rookie to win a starting/impact spot on the packers team at any position except OLB.

    The packers highest needs in my opinion are:
    (in no specific order)

    OLB and OG are the only positions where a “starting position” us up for grabs. you could possibly say that for DE but if Cullen leaves Wilson and Neal will definitely have the inside track.

    1. oh yeah, if Jones leave add WR to that list. but once again a starting spots will be tough to find coming out of camp.

    2. I think OG, DE, and WR are all positions where a drafted player can be a starter and have an immediate impact. Unfortunately, I think the odds are slim that you can hit all three in one draft.

      1. there is a possibility with OG and DE, but WR would be REALLY difficult.

        1. Jennings
        2. Driver (not what he was, but will atleast start the season as the starter)
        3. Jordy – MM and Rodgers trust him and he has been possibly their best 3rd down WR the last season and a half.

        It would have to be a really spectacular and savvy rookie to break into the top 3. and while I like this rookie class I do not see a mid round WR picking up this offense (possibly the most complex offense in the league for WRs) quick enough to be a top 3 guy. barring injury of course.

  2. What is the over under before Jolly is in prison for violating probation.

    I would say if he is able to play football the over/under is 22 months.

    If he cannot play football I would put the over/under at 10 months

  3. hey al, i know this is the OLB post, but I saw on drafttek’s mock the packers are selecting charlie bryant in the late rounds.

    i know he is 6-7 and 320 and played at memphis, but could you give a little break down on him?

  4. He is like the #68th DT in the draft. If the draft went 18 rnds he would be in the 17th. Odds of being drafted 10,000 to 1. He will be at best a training camp invite. He was a scout team player for Memphis and had no starts, I believe he has one tackle in four years of playing in Memphis. Some one is messing with you on that site.

    1. Rick, your information is wrong. Not saying he’s anything, but according to Memphis’s web site, he played in at least 27 games, had at least 6 starts and actually moved to offensive line his senior season. You are right though, he’s very unlikely to be drafted.

  5. The way I look at our OLB corps, specifically, those who make up the LOLB Corps-

    There isn’t a lack of talent whatsoever. Every quality you’d want in an OLB is to be found- Edge-setting run stuffer, relentless, QB-killing pass rusher, adept, fluid drop back cover man.

    The think that the Packers don’t have at LOLB is all these attributes wrapped up into one body. Each of these guys- Walden, Jones, Zombo- brings two of the three traits. Matthews is the only guy who brings the complete mix.

    Yes, having another complete OLB would put the Packers in a great place. But the players we have, as a unit, have all the skills necessary to function and excel as situational players. Dom used them well last season, and if he has to, he’ll do it again.

    finding that all-around OLB is one of the biggest challenges in drafting for the 3-4 D, and if we can address it, it would be a great draft. But it’s hardly a high-priority NEED.

    1. “The thing that the Packers don’t have at LOLB is all these attributes wrapped up into one body. Each of these guys- Walden, Jones, Zombo- brings two of the three traits. Matthews is the only guy who brings the complete mix.”

      Right on the money.

      1. ..as I’ve stated elsewhere previously, I do think that Brad Jones is the closest thing to a complete OLB we have in the cupboard outside of Matthews. He does play run well enough, his coverage skills are fine, and even though he doesn’t look like he gets push in the pocket, he had a surprising number of sacks and hurries in his unexpected call to duty his rookie season.

        He isn’t a dynamic performer perhaps, but he is the most well-rounded out of Walden (who is a dynamic Pass rusher) and Zombo (who is the most stout at the POA).

          1. Al, I find it interesting that you say Ayers is just like Jones, and that we should take him.

            1. Similar type players, not similar in ability. The difference is athleticism and upside. Ayers would be a big upgrade from Jones. Assuming he gets onboard the Kevin Greene motivational train…

  6. I agree 100% with OPPY and the LOLB’s we have with Zombo,Walden and Jones and how Capers was able to utilize their individual talents in the scheme but…
    I don’t doubt that Capers can find some other ways to manipulate the scheme for them again but hardly too any level many would expect or allowed to be forced to accept.
    If all three were combined at one time on the field it would be great but they aren’t and can’t be,and even if they were the biggest lacking attribute of them is…they strike no-fear in to the opponet.
    My point is without the roar of CM3(the Beast)on the field,it becomes a meow,meow commercial.
    CLIFF MATTHEWS-South Carolia.

  7. A while ago, N.E. had linebackers that seemed to be only adequate in areas but had obvious strengths. They’d line ’em up, saying, “We know you know he’s blitzing, and he’ll do it anyway.” Or they opposite. If a player has a strength, use it. Then Dom comes in and utilizes deception to hide the weaknesses. Use Jones for his all around. Blitz Walden. Drop Zombo back.

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