It’s been 15 years since the Green Bay Packers drafted an off-ball linebacker in the first round. Could that streak come to an end on April 29?
The last time the Green Bay Packers selected an off-ball linebacker in the first round was 2006, when Ted Thompson selected Ohio State linebacker, A.J. Hawk with the fifth overall pick.
Since that pick 15 years ago, Hawk, Blake Martinez, and Desmond Bishop have done a fine job of holding down the fort in the middle of the field for the Packers, but none of them were true game-changers.
Is this the year that the Packers end the 15-year drought and take a linebacker with the 29th overall pick? If there was ever a year to snap the 15-year streak this would be the one.
The Green Bay Packers lost twice to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this past season and watched inside linebackers Lavonte David and Devin White give opposing offenses fits with their quickness and playmaking ability.
There is a good chance that Brian Gutekunst saw the impact that those two linebackers had on the entire defense and would like to have a weapon like that in the middle of his defense.
In his season-ending press conference, Gutekunst mentioned that they needed to get more production from their linebackers.
“I think we have to have more productive play out of there,” Gutekunst said l “We had some injuries there early in the year and was really proud of the way some of the guys stepped in [and] the way they competed. But I do think we need to have better production out of our inside linebacker group. We have some young players in there that will grow and get better, and I think we’ll see that moving forward.”
Krys Barnes had a solid rookie season as an undrafted free agent. Kamal Martin missed the majority of his rookie season with a knee injury and when he was on the field he was wildly inconsistent but flashed his ability against the run. Oren Burks and Ty Summers are the other two linebackers on the roster and they are nothing but special teams players at this time.
The Packers recently hired Joe Barry as defensive coordinator. A lot of pundits wanted to talk about his previous stints as defensive coordinator when they should have been focused on his work as a linebackers coach.
Barry has spent 15 years coaching linebackers at the NFL level and five at the collegiate level. Barry knows how to coach up linebackers and with his hiring Gutekunst may decide to get his new defensive coordinator a fancy new car with the 29th pick.
If Gutekunst does in fact target a linebacker in the first round there are two players that could provide an impact from day one for the Packers.
Zaven Collins, Tulsa
If you were to clone a linebacker for today’s NFL, Collins would be the poster child. He’s a big, thumping downhill linebacker that has the excellent movement skills to hold up in coverage.
Everything Collins does looks easy. He’s a fluid mover and has the sideline-to-sideline quickness to give opposing offenses fits, much like White and David did for the Buccaneers this past season.
He has the coverage skills to run downfield with the game’s best tight ends and can match up with running backs coming out of the backfield.
The Packers have cornerstone pieces at each position on the defensive side of the ball, with Kenny Clark (defensive line), Za’Darius Smith (pass rusher), Jaire Alexander (cornerback), and Darnell Savage Jr or Adrian Amos (safety). They are lacking that impact linebacker and Collins could be the perfect fit with the 29th pick if he falls that far.
Nick Bolton, Missouri
Bolton is a physical tone-setter. He plays with an edge and does not get pushed around. Bolton is the one that smacks the opposing team in the mouth. He’s an enforcer in the middle of the field and a mean-spirited tackler.
Watching Bolton work against the run is a thrill ride. The Missouri Tiger is a hammer looking for a nail. He comes downhill with bad intentions in mind and packs a punch.
Bolton will likely be on the board when the Packers are on the clock with the 29th pick. For a team that needs an attitude adjustment on defense, Bolton makes a ton of sense with his physical, downhill playing style.