Detroit Lions: Will Jack Campbell take a starting job right away?
The Detroit Lions obviously spent a high draft pick on him, but will Jack Campbell start immediately?
After inspring criticism about positional value by taking running back Jahmyr Gibbs with the 12th overall pick, the Detroit Lions doubled-down and doubled the sideways looks from analysts by taking linebacker Jack Campbell with pick No. 18.
At first glance, the Lions have two capable starting linebackers in Alex Anzalone and Malcolm Rodriguez and Derrick Barnes is fine as the third guy to rotate in sometimes. But Anzalone just had his best season, graded by Pro Football Focus has basically average among his peers, and Rodriguez has more growth to do going into his second season.
Campbell comes in as the reigning Butkus Award winner and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, with 265 tackles (140 in 2021), nine tackles for loss, two sacks, four interceptions, seven pass breakups (six in 2021) and three fumble recoveries over his last two seasons at Iowa.
Campbell (6-foot-5, 249 pounds), dominated the athletic testing at the NFL Combine to the tune of a 9.98 Relative Athletic Score. Last year, his 92.9 coverage grade from Pro Football Focus led FBS linebackers.
So, we land on a big question…
Will Jack Campbell be one of the starting linebackers for the Lions immediately?
Off the top, a team would not spend top-20 overall draft capital on a player without a plan to use him right away. And we know in a big picture sense that Dan Campbell and the Lions’ coaching operate a meritocracy–the best players who earn it will play.
From this corner Anzalone, even back with the Lions on a three-year deal this offseason, is vulnerable to losing his starting job until he’s no longer on the team. But it has been noted how important Anzalone was to Rodriguez’s success as a rookie last year, and Anzalone is also the “green dot” guy for the Lions’ defense as the on-field signal caller.
Campbell would be ideal for the “MIKE” linebacker spot as more of an all-around force than Anzalone, and especially better in coverage. Then Anzalone would move over to the “WILL” (weakside) spot, bumping Rodriguez to the top backup role.
He will have to earn it of course, but Campbell should have every opportunity to start right away as a rookie. Otherwise the first round positional value conversation will reignite, based on not really being afforded the chance to win a starting job–or his inability to do so.