The Green Bay Packers re-signed linebacker De’Vondre Campbell last motnh at the start of free agency by offering him a 5-year/$50 million contract. The contract makes Campbell the 15th-highest paid linebacker in the NFL, not a bad deal for a defender who was arguably a top-5 linebacker in the NFL in 2021. The contract was well deserved for the first team all pro linebacker.
Let’s take a look back at the season that earned Campbell his long-term deal, which came after he signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Packers last June.
Why the Packers brought Campbell back
Campbell statistically had his best year as a pro. He had 117 tackles and missed only four. He also recorded two interceptions, two pass break-ups, and was targeted 79 times in the passing game but surrendered just an 88.3 NFL passer rating per Pro Football Focus. He also registered only 10 total pressures (2 sacks, 4 hits, 4 hurries) but within the context of the Packers defensive scheme, that isn’t surprising given how defensive coordinator Joe Barry structures his pass rush and hides certain tendencies.
Campbell is a linebacker who can lock down and defend the short to intermediate areas of the field, with excellent sideline to sideline movement as well. He was instrumental in several 4th quarter stops in the passing game versus the Steelers in week four, including a two play sequence where he had a pass break-up on third down and then a tackle before the sticks on fourth down.
Perhaps his best play though, came just on sheer hustle and high effort when he raced from the opposite hash to make a tackle along the Packers sideline on a third down play at the start of the fourth quarter. The Packers are running a four man pressure package with corner off the edge. The defense rotates into cover-2 behind it with linebackers Campbell (No. 59) and Oren Burks (no. 42) bailing at the snap into hook zones over the top of the rush.
Diontae Johnson (No. 18) catches the pass and tries to turn upfield, breaks a tackle, cuts back to the outside where Campbell is in pursuit and tackles him for no gain.
On the two-play sequence on the Steelers next drive, Campbell showed why the Packers took a chance on him and it paid off.
On the first play, guarding JuJu Smith-Schuster in the slot, widened to gain outside leverage and as Smith-Schuster cut inside on the slant, Campbell lunged and knocked the pass away. On the next play in the video above, fourth down after his pass break up, Campbell is guarding the opposite slot away from Smith-Schuster. It looks like man coverage pre-snap and the Steelers have a man coverage beater, mesh crossers, called to get the first down.
Except it isn’t man coverage. Campbell passes off the crosser away from him as Smith-Schuster crosses over. He drops off with Smith-Schuster and makes the tackle, preventing the receiver from gaining any yardage on fourth down.
On this 1st-and-10 play late in the first quarter versus the Chiefs in week nine, the Chiefs came out in an 11 personnel 3x1 trips formation to the right with Tyreek Hill (No. 10) singled up on the left side of the formation. Hill is running a go route down the field. On the trips side, tight end Travis Kelce is the number three receiver and is running a whip route to the outside.
The Packers are in a cover-5 shell (cover-2 man) across, eliminating Hill from the progression as the single receiver since the corner would have him bracketed with the safety to that side. This leaves Kelce 1-on-1 with Campbell in the slot. Campbell, with no inside help, looks to be playing a wall technique where he immediately jumps inside and his responsibility is not to let Kelce cross his face.
At the snap, Campbell sticks on Kelce pretty cleanly and forces Mahomes to throw the ball in the dirt rather than risk a potentially bad pass that could be tipped and lead to an interception.
Run defense, stops, tackles for a loss
Campbell had six tackles for losses in 2021, two quarterback sacks, and 55 total “stops” (21 in run defense) per Pro Football Focus. Pro Football Focus defines a stop as a play in which “a defender makes a tackle (includes sacks) and limits the offensive player from gaining 45% or less of the yards needed to move the chains on first down, 60% or less on second down or prevented from picking up the first down on third/fourth down.”
On his non-sack tackles for losses, he showed a quick trigger, great lateral speed, and an explosive get off that not many linebackers possess. He read his keys quickly, navigates through traffic, and pursues the ball carrier maybe faster than anyone else on the defense. While he only had six TFL’s, his 21 run game stops also add to his instinctive nature to find the ball and make key plays.
On his first sack here versus the Cardinals, Campbell added to the rush late as a quarterback spy and once Murray looked to escape the pocket, Campbell was in the backfield applying pressure before he sacked him, again showing patience but reacting quickly to the problem in front of him.
On his sack versus Baltimore, Campbell prevented the Ravens from scoring inside the five yard line in a game they won by just two points, making this play arguably one of the most important for that game one that perhaps ensured they would capture the number one seed.
Facing fourth-and-goal from the four yard line, the Packers defense, led by Campbell here, forced Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley to scramble and leave the pocket. Downfield coverage was sticky and allowed Campbell a free run at Huntley as he sprinted to the sideline looking for a receiver. Campbell closes quick and forces Huntley to eat the sack instead of attempting a throw to the front corner of the end zone. Turnover on downs.
Although the Packers didn’t score on the next drive, the sack kept the Ravens off the board in a game the Packers won by just one point.
Campbell’s all-pro selection and contract was well earned. The Packers have a solidified core of defenders coming back as they locked up Preston Smith as well with a 4-year extension. Joe Barry’s scheme seemed to unlock the most from its talent and with players like Jaire Alexander coming back healthy and the addition of Jarran Reed in the interior, Campbell’s return should only solidify the defense heading into 2022.