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Packers 2021 Roster Preview: Who steps up among young inside linebacker group?

Green Bay seemingly found a diamond in the rough in an undrafted rookie last season. Will he and a fellow 2020 rookie continue to impress in their second seasons?

NFL: NFC Divisional Round-Los Angeles Rams at Green Bay Packers Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers report for training camp on July 27th, with the team’s first practice coming the next day. In the week leading up to camp, Acme Packing Company will break down the Packers’ 90-man roster and give our predictions for who will make the initial 53 at the end of camp. Seven APC contributors submitted their 53-man predictions, and we have combined those picks into our annual consolidated prediction.

APC continues on today by looking at the inside linebacker position, where a young unit got a boost of veteran experience this offseason.

Inside Linebackers on the 90-man roster

De’Vondre Campbell

NFL Experience: 6th season
2020 Stats (16 games with Cardinals): 69 solo tackles, 99 combined, 2.0 sacks, 3 PD.
2021 cap hit: $1.192 Million

The old man in the group, Campbell joins the Packers from Arizona and gives the Packers another option to deal with the youth in the Inside Linebacker corps. Campbell started all 16 games for Arizona after being a four-year starter in Atlanta. He is a solid tackler, but not a noted force in the pass rush and only average in pass coverage. Mostly, he is a depth addition who will be able to mentor the young starters and to step in at any moment.

Oren Burks

NFL Experience: 4th season
2020 Stats (16 games, 0 starts): 14 solo tackles, 21 combined, 2 FF
2021 cap hit: $1.15 Million

Burks is the athletic sort of player who created buzz and hope when he was drafted. He played Inside Linebacker as well as Edge Rusher while at Vanderbilt. He seemed to be the sort of player who could be able to stick his nose in on the run game while also getting involved in the pass rush. Still, he has been injured several times in his first few seasons. He has been given opportunities but has had trouble staying on the field to make plays. If he stays healthy through camp, he has the sort of athleticism to make a serious push for playing time, but he has to stay available. He has been a staple of the Packers’ special teams units, however.

Ty Summers

NFL Experience: 3rd season
2020 Stats (16 game, 1 start): 27 solo tackles, 39 combined, 1 PD
2021 cap hit: $874,476

Summers is basically a replacement level player. He has made some time making plays in preseason, but he has not looked like anyone pressing for starting time when given opportunities in the regular season. He lacks top end speed and does not hang with pass catchers in coverage. He is a sure tackler and a poor man’s Blake Martinez. He hangs at the back of the roster, contributing on special teams for now.

Krys Barnes

NFL Experience: 2nd season
2020 Stats (13 games): 49 solo tackles, 80 combined, 1.0 sacks, 1 FF
2021 cap hit: $780K

Barnes came in as an undrafted free agent last year and made the most of his opportunities. He stepped in and was a starter from Day 1 of the regular season. Barnes found a way to be a serviceable player stepping in and making the tackles in the run game, though he did not make any particular plays in pass coverage. That will be something that he will have to improve as he moves forward. The Packers let Christian Kirksey walk this offseason and Barnes is one of the reasons why.

Kamal Martin

NFL Experience: 2nd season
2020 Stats (10 games): 17 solo tackles, 24 combined, 1.0 sacks
2021 cap hit $847,765

Martin was another player who made an impact in his rookie year. He was a 5th-round draft draft pick out of Minnesota and found his way onto the field in ten games with six starts. Martin showed a great ability to shoot gaps and find the ball. The biggest issue he had was in getting into the backfield too quickly and finding himself behind the play or seeing the backs cutting back away from him. He has great speed and reaches the ball with violence. What he needs to improve on is making better reads and reacting to the ball better.

Martin is much like Barnes in that he was not a key part of the pass defense, as he did not record a single pass breakup. At some point these two young men will have to find a way to make plays on the back end. Still, they run very well downhill and make plays near the line of scrimmage.

De’Jon Harris

NFL Experience: First year
2020 stats (2 games): No stats recorded
2021 cap hit: $660k

The Packers plucked Harris, nicknamed “Scoota,” for the practice squad after he spent training camp with the New England Patriots. He was activated from the squad for two regular season games, playing in 25 special teams snaps without a tackle. The former Arkansas product is on the smaller side, but was a tackling force with three collegiate seasons of at least 100 total tackles. He will look to compete for a reserve job and a role on special teams once again.

Isaiah McDuffie

NFL Experience: Rookie (6th-round draft pick)
2020 stats (11 games at Boston College): 54 solo tackles, 107 combined, 3.0 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FR
2021 cap hit: $692,676

McDuffie has some limitations in terms of his pure athleticism. His speed is okay, but his quickness is limiting. It will remain to be seen if he can find a way to be involved in the special teams and maybe stick around. He had the one interception his senior year, but that was the only one in four years (and 31 starts). He had just 3 PDs in four years. That being said, he is not particularly large as a player and tat does not give him something as a physical talent to fall back on. Even with the draft pick spent this year, he might be a stretch to make the team.

APC 53-Man Roster Prediction

Starters: Krys Barnes, Kamal Martin

Backups: De’Vondre Campbell, Ty Summers, Isaiah McDuffie

We believe that the Packers’ young starters will lead the way again this year. Barnes and Martin are the same guys who took the lead down the stretch last year, but there were not additions that will really be clear starters, as Campbell’s role is still yet to be determined. Last year the Packers added Kirksey to get a guy who can cover and step right in and start. They did not do that this year. This year the Packers stayed pat on the starters and looked to add depth with a few guys to hang on in special teams.

This was one of the tightest battles on the roster for APC, with Summers and McDuffie making the 53 over Burks by a single vote.