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Packers 2023 Roster Predictions: Inside linebackers look to bounce back

With so many backups devoted to special teams, Green Bay’s depth could be tested.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers tend to be a forward-thinking organization, and while this is generally a good thing, it does cause them to struggle in some old-school ways. Chief among them: no team gets themselves knocked out of the playoffs via an opposing running game like Green Bay. It’s better to be stout against the pass than the run, but there’s a limit to this rule, and the Packers routinely smash that limit to smithereens like Ty Summers bouncing off a medium-sized H-back.

While this team has traditionally skimped on their off-ball linebackers, that is no longer the case as the team ponied up enough money to push De’Vondre Campbell into a new tax bracket after his stellar 2021, and invested a first round pick in Georgia’s Quay Walker in the 2022 draft. Unfortunately, injuries and poor play on the defensive line hurt Campbell’s production, while a lack of discipline and rookie inexperience severely impacted Walker.

Here’s how we expect the inside linebackers to stack up as we head in to 2023.

Starters: De’Vondre Campbell, Quay Walker

Well, you can’t fall off the floor.

Campbell ranked as PFF’s second overall linebacker in 2021 behind only Micah Parsons, and that grade was a perfect reflection of reality. Campbell was everywhere, with 146 tackles, two picks, two forced fumbles, and two sacks. He consistently brought down ball carriers at the point of attack and rarely let himself get pushed into the secondary. Campbell missed four games in 2022, and was clearly not himself when he was on the field, but even while banged up, he had a strong finish indicating a rebound is possible. It would also do him a world of good if the defensive line could hold up their end of the bargain with some regularity.

Quay Walker is an outstanding athlete, but those athletic gifts failed to materialize into production as a rookie. Walker ranked 134th among linebackers according to PFF, frequently found himself out of position, and lost his one-on-one battles far more than he won them. Walker is tall and fast, and he did flash in pass coverage, but his tall frame cost him leverage, and he was one of the single worst run defenders in football as a result.

Compounding Walker’s issues is that he was ejected twice, including a bizarre situation in which he shoved a Detroit Lions trainer when he was attempting to attend to an injured player. Walker was filmed crying in the tunnel after the incident and issued a sincere apology after the fact, but his lack of control in these tense moments was reflective of his overall play. The man can run, but he played an undisciplined game.

Backups: Isaiah McDuffie, Eric Wilson, Tariq Carpenter

McDuffie is one of Rich Bisaccia’s chief special teams aces. He’s on the small side, but he runs fast, keeps contain, and hits hard. Bisaccia has been granted the use of several important players resembling large safeties or small linebackers, and as ILB backups, it’s not a bad way to go. When McDuffie is forced into action he’s adept at playing the “See ballcarrier, hit ballcarrier” game, which is more than most Packer off-ball backers have been capable of over the last decade.

If Eric Wilson were just a bit younger, he would be a genuinely interesting prospect. He is, like most special teams-first Packer linebackers, on the small side, but he’s absurdly fast and flashed in limited action last year. However, entering his age 29 season, we know what we have here. Wilson’s a valuable gunner and an occasional thumper, and he can serve as an adequate backup in a pinch. He even offers a few decent pass rushing moves.

Finally, we have Tariq Carpenter, who has bounced back and forth between defensive back and linebacker, and now settles into the heavier position. Carpenter was an outstanding, enormous DB at Georgia Tech, and put up four picks and 17 passes defended in four seasons, but at 6-4, the move inside is probably warranted. Given his athletic gifts, Carpenter is probably the most likely, after Walker, to show some signs of significant development. Entering his age 25 season, he brings coverage chops above and beyond what most linebackers do. The challenge for Carpenter will be adding enough functional size.

Released: Jimmy Phillips, Jr., Keshawn Banks

SMU’s Jimmy Phillips, Jr. is an underwhelming athlete (3.44 RAS) who didn’t put up many “wow” moments in college. He doesn’t match the Bisaccia mold for special teams, and has a huge uphill battle to be anything other than early camp cannon fodder.

Banks primarily played defensive end and edge in college. He posted just a 2.09 RAS, but he was one of the best run defenders in college football at the edge position, and may find some use as a situational run defender.