The outside linebacker position for the Green Bay Packers is a fascinating one when looking at the players on the roster. There is only a single player who has spent more than one season in the NFL, but he is an All-Pro. There is a first-round pick from 2012 starting opposite him, but then a batch of low draft picks or undrafted free agents behind them. At least two of those players will make the roster, so who will it be?
Nate Palmer (6th round, Illinois State)
Palmer makes the switch from defensive end and was identified as a potential Packers prospect when he met with the team prior to the draft. He moved to Illinois State after not getting playing time at Illinois and shined against FCS competition. In his 24 games in two years as a Redbird, Palmer recorded 17 sacks and 25.5 tackles for loss, as well as forcing five fumbles and recovering two. He's an ideal fit for the Packers' system at 6'2" and 248, and certainly will have a strong opportunity to make the roster as a backup at the position.
Andy Mulumba (UDFA, Eastern Michigan)
Despite being one of the top draft picks in the Canadian Football League's draft this week (chosen second overall by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers), Mulumba will give the NFL a shot as an undrafted free agent. He brings a size to the position that the Packers only match with Nick Perry, as he stands 6'4" and weighed in around 265 pounds for EMU last year. He put up 4.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss in college, and is a good athlete, running his 40 yard dash in about 4.8 seconds at his Pro Day. With a relatively small number of players on the roster at the position, Mulumba has one of the best chances of any rookie free agent to make the team.
Everybody knows what Matthews means to this team, and that is a major reason why he just became one of the highest-paid defensive players in NFL history a few weeks ago. Matthews does it all - he plays the run well, he is one of the better NFL linebackers in coverage, and he is obviously a terrific pass-rusher. He should continue to be a contender for NFL Defensive Player of the Year for the foreseeable future.
Perry remains a bit of a question mark after missing the last ten games of the 2012 season due to a wrist injury. However, he was just starting to emerge as a playmaker before that injury struck. This play exemplified what Perry can do; he has great speed and closing ability, and as long as the referees don't keep flagging him unnecessarily Packers fans will hope to see many more hits like that from Perry along with continued development in pass coverage.
As an undrafted rookie, Moses made the team out of camp last season with an impressive showing in the preseason and limited depth at the position. He brought a little bit of youthful energy and athleticism when substituting in for an injured Matthews during the middle portion of the season, but was very inconsistent and struggled frequently. Improving his technique and consistency will be the key for Moses to maintain his place as a key backup for the Packers this season.
Johnson has yet to play in a game in a Packers uniform, as he spent the preseason with the Cincinnati Bengals and was only signed to Green Bay's practice squad late in 2012. He's a more stout linebacker at 6'2" and 265, but he will need to beat out both rookies in camp for a spot on the team.
Projected Depth Chart
LOLB: Nick Perry, Nate Palmer, Micah Johnson, Andy Mulumba
ROLB: Clay Matthews, Dezman Moses, Nate Palmer
Matthews and Perry are as sure a tandem of starters as there can be on the team at this point. It's tough to tell where Palmer fits in at this point, but his listed size puts him more in line with Matthews and Moses on the right side. As a draft pick, he'll naturally have a leg up on Mulumba and Johnson for a roster spot.
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