The Green Bay Packers have long-term depth questions at the outside linebacker position. Mike Neal and Nick Perry will be free agents and Julius Peppers has one year left on his contract. It seems a virtual certainty that with only Clay Matthews signed beyond 2016, the time is now for Ted Thompson to find a pass rusher for the future.
In theory, Thompson could scout just a single SEC school and find two outside linebackers who would make intriguing fits in the Packers' 3-4 defense.
The Georgia Bulldogs have consistently sent linebackers to the NFL. Last year it was a pair of inside linebackers in Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera, and before that players like Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree, and Justin Houston terrorized the Buulldogs' opponents. This year, Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins should add to the legacy of Georgia linebackers making the transition to the NFL.
Georgia is one of the few college programs that runs a 3-4 defense, which can give these players an advantage at the next level. Floyd and Jenkins played opposite each other at outside linebacker; the lanky, speedy Floyd manned the weak side while the much beefier and more physical Jenkins played on the strong side.
The two are close friends off the field, which further adds to their complementary nature. "(Jenkins) is one of my best friends," Floyd said. "I'm really glad that we are going through the Combine experience together." In fact, both players are competitive with each other all the way down to their measurements - Though he stands 6'3" to Floyd's 6' 5-5/8", Jenkins' arms measured in at a very impressive 34-1/4", more than a full inch longer than Floyd, who said "I was pretty upset that his arms was longer than mine."
Furthermore, Jenkins got plenty of jabs in with his teammate about having a bigger wingspan. "That's the first thing we talked about when we got off the podium," Jenkins told the media. "(Floyd) said 'who had the longer arms?' I said 'you know I got you by about three inches!' But he's got me in height by about three inches."
Despite that nearly 6'6" frame, one of the concerns about Floyd is his ability to hold the point of attack at his size. He weighed in at 244 pounds - 244.9, he was sure to point out to the media - which was up almost 15 pounds from the 231 he was listed at by the Bulldogs. However, he said he weighed "like 240 on gamedays" this fall, which suggests that he can bulk up to 250 pounds and still maintain his speed and athleticism. He also admitted that he needs to work on his array of pass-rushing moves: "I feel like I can work on it and come up with another move I can go to instead of just speed."
"Leonard, he's a hell of a - he's a heck of an athlete," Jenkins said. "6'5", quick guy, maybe 230, he kills it with quickness, speed as well... teams couldn't game plan against us."
Jenkins' weight is not an issue, however. The 6'3" Jenkins weighed in at 259 pounds, making him a better candidate to hold the edge in the run game. In fact, that quality is a point of pride for him: "Not a lot of people think I have a lot of strength, but lower-body wise, I squat with the best of them. I squat around 600-plus, and I feel like that's what really helps me set the edge." Jenkins also is a technician, noting that "I use leverage, I use my long arms, I just feel like I have a good striking point and good hands at the point of attack."
Playing as a 3-4 outside linebacker at Georgia means that the transition to a 4-3 defense or taking on more coverage responsibilities in an NFL 3-4 defense is a point of focus for both players throughout the Draft process. Jenkins played strong-side linebacker in a 4-3 at the Senior Bowl, noting that "We weren't rushing, it was just dropping and playing against the run." He feels that the experience helped him greatly though, and said that he "really felt a little bit at home, didn't feel out of place...it wasn't natural, but the transition was easier than I thought it would be."
Floyd also says he has improved in coverage over the past few years at Georgia: "Learn the different coverages, learn how to set myself up in the right position to make plays on receivers. I definitely believe that's a strength, me being able to cover guys."
For the Packers, Jenkins would likely be a better candidate to play on the left side of the defense, rotating in with Julius Peppers. He would likely come with a lesser investment in draft capital, as NFL Draft Scout currently projects him as a third-round pick, compared to their first- or second-round projection for Floyd.
On the other hand, Floyd would bring an impressive athletic presence to the position, and working with Peppers and Clay Matthews would certainly give him plenty of opportunities to develop his pass-rushing abilities. Working with those veterans should help him create alternate moves to help him disengage from blockers and get to the quarterback.
The two players have some lofty footsteps to follow, as they come out of Georgia in the shadow of so many excellent players at their position. They embrace the challenge, however. "It's a great honor to be able to possibly be the next great Georgia linebacker in the NFL," Jenkins said. It's entirely possible that either he or Floyd will be just that.