For several years, the Green Bay Packers have been searching for a reliable impact player to fill the defense’s ever-evolving hybrid linebacker position.
The Packers struck out when using former second-round pick Josh Jones in that role before experimenting with players such as Raven Greene, Adrian Amos, Will Redmond, Josh Jackson, and Ibraheim Campbell. With Campbell, perhaps the most impressive of the bunch, moving to Tennessee, the Packers faced another predicament in trying to find a versatile replacement when the 2020 NFL Draft rolled around.
The Packers may have found their eventual answer in TCU’s Vernon Scott, selecting the senior safety in the seventh round. While Scott may not be field-ready immediately as a late blooming college player, he could represent an intriguing long-term option in the event that Greene cannot recapture some of the ability he showed prior to injury early in 2019.
Besides playing the traditional safety position, Scott often found himself lined up in the slot, where he was able to serve in coverage against receivers and tight ends as well as patrol the edge in run support and as a blitzer. Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst noted that Scott’s versatility was his calling card in post-draft interviews, while acknowledging that his best play might still be ahead of him. Indeed, Scott’s “feel for route development” and “instincts in space” may be below average at this point in his career as NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein suggests, but those traits can still be improved through increased game experience.
From an athletic standpoint, Scott offers the Packers a good blend of tools to work with for a third-day pick. The 6-foot-2 safety adds an extra few inches of height in comparison to Campbell without sacrificing much of that speed (4.56 in the 40). Perhaps fortunately for Green Bay, Scott was unable to showcase those measurables at a pro day due to the coronavirus. While Scott could initially spend time primarily in the safeties room due to his current 206-pound frame, there is an opportunity with time to bulk up enough for a continued role as a big nickel back in the middle of the defense. As Scott had mentioned pre-draft, the Horned Frogs’ 4-2-5 defense tasked the safeties with making a lot of the pre-snap defensive calls and spending frequent time as a box defender.
With the Packers adding Christian Kirksey in the offseason to start at middle linebacker, the team hopes they found a player that has enough speed and coverage ability to help on all three downs. But there is still plenty of depth needed behind him in passing situations and that is not the area of strongest suit for true inside ‘backers Kamal Martin and Ty Summers. Oren Burks, once drafted to help in that area as well, has been ineffective thus far as an NFL defender.
Those question marks open the door for Summers’ former college teammate Scott, as does his ability to contribute on special teams An area of emphasis at TCU, special teams got Scott on the field early in Fort Worth and that experience will be a feature that could carry Scott to a roster spot while he develops defensively.
If the potential swiss army knife can carve out a niche on the Packers’ roster amidst his raw potential, perhaps Green Bay’s revolving door at hybrid linebacker can finally swing shut in the coming years. In a draft where the Packers’ first picks received widespread attention and mostly in a negative way, the low-risk, high-reward nature of Scott’s selection at 236th overall makes him one of the most overlooked prospects in this year’s class.