clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Packers 2022 Roster Preview: Linebackers ready for a repeat performance

Led by De’Vondre Campbell, the Packers linebackers are an asset to the defense.

Green Bay Packers v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Packers are heading into 2022 in a strange position: not only is inside linebacker not an obvious weakness, it’s a strong position on a very talented defense.

De’Vondre Campbell helms the position after an All-Pro season in 2021, and he’s joined by Quay Walker, whose testing numbers put more than a few wide receivers to shame. Add in steady Krys Barnes and a few special teamers, and you’ve got a group primed for sustained success in 2022.

It’s fair to wonder whether Campbell can match his 2021 performance, but overall, the Packers’ linebackers appear to be ready to be big contributors this season.

De’Vondre Campbell

How acquired: Originally signed as an unrestricted free agent in July 2021; signed a five-year, $50 million extension in 2022
NFL experience: 7th year
2021 stats: 16 games played, 16 starts; 146 solo tackles; 2 interceptions; 2 sacks; 2 fumbles forced

Campbell wasn’t signed until July, but from his impact on the 2021 Packers, you’d be forgiven for thinking he’d been a core member of the defense for years. He gave the Packers a presence at inside linebacker they haven’t seen in years, filling in gaps in Joe Barry’s scheme while offering well-rounded contributions to the stat sheet.

It’s somewhat funny to note how similar his stats were to his prior season in Arizona and, really, his entire NFL career prior to Green Bay. In a lot of ways, he was just the same reliable, steady player for the Packers in 2021 that he was at every other stop on his NFL journey so far. The difference is that the Packers had previously tried to fill that spot with little more than spare parts. Campbell took their linebacker room to another level by being more than just a warm body, offering athleticism and consistency they’ve not seen from their linebackers in years.

The question now is whether or not he can do it again. Based on his consistency throughout his career so far, it’d be surprising to see a dramatic drop-off, but he’s also entering his age 29 season. Some age-related decline could be possible, but Campbell is likely going to be a huge part of the Packers’ 2022 defense no matter what.

Quay Walker

How acquired: 2022 NFL Draft (1st round, 22nd overall)
NFL experience: Rookie
2021 stats: (At Georgia) 13 games; 65 total tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, 1 fumble recovery, 3 pass breakups

There are athletic marvels and then there’s Quay Walker. The first of two Packers first-round picks in 2022, Walker put together a testing performance at the NFL Combine that few have matched. Nobody questions his ability to run and jump.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t questions about De’Vondre Campbell’s new running mate.

A relatively late bloomer at Georgia, some wondered whether Walker was even the best linebacker on his own team; many draftniks preferred Nakobe Dean to Walker. It’s true he was a cog on the mighty Georgia defense that powered the Bulldogs, but that defense was hardly spoiled for talent — how big an impact did he really have, especially given that he hardly stuffed the stat sheet there?

The upshot is that the Packers don’t need him to be The Guy at ILB in 2022; they’ve already got that job filled with Campbell. Walker will have the chance to learn the ropes while providing the kind of athleticism few NFL teams are ever able to put on the field at linebacker.

Krys Barnes

How acquired: Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2020
NFL experience: 3rd year
2021 stats: 16 games played, 13 starts; 81 total tackles; 1 sack

Barnes’ ascension to the starting lineup was one of a few pandemic-related surprises of the 2020 NFL season. With no opportunity to see him in preseason games, he was an entirely unknown quantity when he took the field early that year, and it was easy to assume he was just keeping a spot warm for 2020 draft pick Kamal Martin.

Instead, Barnes latched on to a job and never gave it back; with Christian Kirksey in and out of the lineup, Barnes was something of a steadying figure in the middle of the Packers’ defense. Sure, he was a little small and a little slow, but he was reliable and available, which made him, at the very least, not actively harmful to the defense.

His 2021 was largely the same, albeit in a smaller capacity due to De’Vondre Campbell’s presence. His role figures to shrink again with Quay Walker’s arrival, and it’s easy to see why. If the knocks on your game boil down to “a little small and a little slow,” you’re definitely in danger when a guy shows up whose scouting report in large part reads “big and fast.”

Barnes has been a nice story, but his days as a central figure on the Packers’ defense are likely over.

Isaiah McDuffie

How acquired: 2021 NFL Draft (6th round, 220th overall)
NFL experience: 2nd year
2021 stats: 13 games played, 0 starts; 2 tackles

McDuffie’s physical profile screamed “special teamer” from the moment he was drafted. Fairly light for his position with good straight-line speed, it was easy to see a role for him covering kicks.

That proved to be the case, too; McDuffie logged 192 snaps for the Packers in 2021, all on special teams.

Maybe he has something to offer the defense, but the depth chart is working against him. It’ll be hard for him to find an opportunity unless things really go awry with a few players ahead of him on the depth chart.

Ty Summers

How acquired: 2019 NFL Draft (7th round, 226th overall)
NFL experience: 4th year
2021 stats: 14 games played, 0 starts; 9 tackles

Summers, like McDuffie, has been almost exclusively a special teamer in Green Bay, and for good reason: opposing offenses seem to take immediate notice as soon as he’s on the field on defense. That was never more the case than in the 2020 NFC Championship when, after an injury, Summers stepped into the defensive lineup and was immediately spotted by Tom Brady, giving up an 11-yard completion.

Under new defensive coordinator Joe Barry, Summers only saw the field for 29 snaps in 2021, and that will likely be the ceiling for his defensive contributions if he even makes the team in 2022. With McDuffie logging heavy snaps on special teams and a group of new undrafted free agents clamoring for opportunities at his position, Summers might be the odd man out at inside linebacker.

Ray Wilborn

How acquired: Signed by the Packers as a free agent in January 2021; re-signed in January 2022
NFL experience: 1st year
2021 stats: None

A former college safety, Wilborn has been filling the “intriguing but largely unknown prospect” role in Green Bay for a while now. He spent the entire 2021 season on the practice squad and returns for 2022 facing a steep climb on the depth chart to make the roster.

But he might have a good shot. Someone needs to play special teams and he’s got the athleticism to contribute there, and if the Packers would prefer someone with actual upside on defense as their special teams bellcow, Wilborn only has to leap Summers and McDuffie for a chance at the 53. The odds are long; he’s competing for maybe one spot at inside linebacker. But he can’t be counted out, either.

Ellis Brooks

How acquired: Signed as an undrafted free agent following the 2022 NFL Draft
NFL experience: Rookie
2021 stats: College

Brooks is a bit of an odd prospect: he was a big contributor at a noteworthy program, leading Penn State in tackles his final season there, but he’s also small (6-1, 226) and didn’t test well (a 4.77-second 40-yard dash is pretty indicative of the rest of his numbers).

The Packers are betting his on-field performance is the better indicator of his status as a prospect, giving him an $8,000 bonus to sign as an undrafted free agent this spring. Following the money has been a good indicator of who the Packers like in the past. Perhaps that speaks to Brooks’ future in Green Bay.

Caliph Brice

How acquired: Signed as an undrafted free agent following the 2022 NFL Draft
NFL experience: Rookie
2021 stats: College

Brice is Brooks’ inverse as a prospect. He’s slightly more athletic (a 4.61 40-yard dash), but played at a smaller school (Florida Atlantic) and didn’t post quite the numbers that Brooks did. It’s splitting hairs to put one over the other as a prospect given the depth chart problems both face; neither has a good shot at a roster spot,