Beyond needing good players, the Green Bay Packers might simply need bodies at inside linebacker to get through the first several weeks of the 2019 regular season. The team has seen projected starter Oren Burks go down at the WILL position with a shoulder injury, followed closely by a knee injury to his replacement, undrafted rookie Curtis Bolton.
While both players seemed to escape serious injuries, they both could miss a few weeks of the regular season. And if either player’s injury is serious enough to warrant a stint on injured reserve, the Packers would need to keep him through final cuts on Saturday in order to preserve the ability to bring him back later in 2019.
Sunday, however, is also the day when waivers process around the NFL after final cuts, and the Packers could claim a player or two who ended up being casualties from other rosters to take the place of an individual who goes to IR that day. As such, general manager Brian Gutekunst and the pro scouting staff have been monitoring other teams’ roster situations, and they will surely be monitoring the waiver wire on Saturday afternoon and evening to see who comes available. Gutekunst said as much in a press conference on Tuesday morning, and inside linebacker would seem to be one of the most logical positions to consider claiming a player.
Here are a few possibilities for him to consider, should these players come available.
Skai Moore, Indianapolis Colts
Last season, Moore made the Colts’ roster as an undrafted rookie out of South Carolina. A starter for three-plus seasons in Columbia, Moore recorded at least three interceptions each year in college, and had three seasons of 93 tackles or more. Coverage is his specialty, and he started in week one last year before second-rounder Darius Leonard took over and set the NFL on fire with a Rookie of the Year season. This summer, he is competing with a group of players (including former Packer Ahmad Thomas) to back up Leonard.
Moore played the WILL in the Colts’ 4-3 scheme last year, but that makes him a decent candidate to fit the Packers’ needs inside in Mike Pettine’s 3-4 should he become available. With good speed (4.73 40 at the Combine in 2018) and explosiveness (36-inch vertical), Moore has the physical tools needed to pitch in as a blitzer and in coverage.
Josh Woods, Chicago Bears
The Packers have experimented with former college safeties at linebacker before (Thomas and Oren Burks are two recent examples), and often line up NFL safeties like Raven Greene at dime linebacker. Woods is another player who made the transition from being a college defensive back to playing linebacker in the NFL, doing so on the Bears’ practice squad in 2018.
Woods actually played with first-round rookie Darnell Savage at Maryland, starting next to him as the Terrapins’ other starting safety in 2017. That year he recorded a pair of interceptions and 62 tackles. He has bulked up in to linebacker size, however, now listed at 6-foot-1 and 236 pounds. With the Bears having a handful of inside linebackers established already, Woods is probably a player that Chicago would like to get back on the practice squad for another year, but a forced fumble in the preseason opener suggests that he may be able to help an NFL team now.
Ulyesees Gilbert III, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers’ sixth-round draft pick from April is about a 50/50 shot to make Pittsburgh’s roster at final cuts, according to The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly. We also know that the Packers had at least some interest in Gilbert before the draft, as he took an official visit to Green Bay before the draft.
Gilbert offers tantalizing speed, as the former Akron Zip reportedly ran a 4.51-second 40 at his Pro Day with a 1.51-second ten-yard split. That and a 39-1/2 inch vertical gives him early Clay Matthews-level explosiveness. He also had an impressive preseason debut in Pittsburgh, particularly excelling as a blitzer. He recorded three tackles in that game, but had 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and a whopping four hits on the quarterback from the inside linebacker spot.
Gilbert also has some coverage ability, as one can see from a three-interception year as a junior at Akron, and pitched in on special teams this summer for the Steelers as well. If Gilbert does end up getting cut loose, he would make a ton of sense as an athletic, rangy linebacker with coverage and blitzing ability.
Alvin Jones, Baltimore Ravens
This would be fun from a purely personal perspective; Jones is the older brother of Packers running back Aaron, and the two played together (albeit on opposite sides of the football) at UTEP. He’s very much an undersized linebacker, standing under six feet tall, but he had a nose for the football in college. He would almost certainly be called upon for special teams and emergency duty only, at least to start, making him a less attractive option than the others above, but the Packers have been scooping up former Ravens on the fringe this offseason and Jones could be the latest example.
B.J. Goodson, New York Giants
A fourth-round pick in 2016, Goodson worked his way into the Giants’ starting lineup in 2017 and started 20 games in the past two years, including 13 a year ago. Last year he picked off a pair of passes and broke up four, adding 61 tackles and three quarterback hits. The former Clemson star had a huge senior season in college as well, recording a pair of picks and triple-digit tackles.
He also has decent measureables from the 2016 Combine, with a 4.69-second 40 and a 7.05-second 3-cone drill. However, he has seemingly fallen out of favor in New Jersey, and is going from holding a starting job on a bad defense to a very realistic roster cut. Wisconsin rookie Ryan Connelly is fighting for a starting job, while Tae Davis, an undrafted player a year ago, is in the mix as well. Goodson could well be available and might be able to provide some valuable starting experience to a group that likely needs veteran depth early on this season.