Jack Campbell is an emerging, overlooked breakout candidate for the Lions

With a lot of attention elsewhere, Jack Campbell is absolutely a top breakout candidate for the Lions this year.
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After taking running back Jahmyr Gibbs 12th overall, the Detroit Lions doubled-up on against the grain first-round picks last year by taking linebacker Jack Campbell with the 18th overall pick. If a running back with a top-15 overall drew ire from the positional value truthers, and off-ball linebacker with another top-20 pick was outright blasphemous for that group.

Campbell played well as a rookie, finishing second on the Lions in tackles with 95 while playing all 17 games (12 starts). He was mixed in as an edge rusher earlier, in an effort to get him on the field more, but he eventually settled into his prescribed role off the ball.

At OTAs last week, via SI.com, Campbell said the last play of the NFC Championship Game loss, as 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy of course taking a knee, "eats at him." He also noted how playing different positions last year helped him as he moves toward his second season.

"I feel like last year, I was pushed some different ways to go play some different positions and I feel like that helped me a lot," Campbell explained. "Just understanding what the front-seven’s doing, but this year, just understanding what the back-end’s doing. Where’s my rotation? Where’s my help? Stuff like that."

Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn openly lauded Campbell's progress last week.

"Let me tell you, first off he’s a man. He’s a grown man. He’s really taken control of this offseason the way that he should take control of it," Glenn said. "He’s a true MIKE backer. He’s a guy that lives, breathes green-dot mentality as a MIKE backer..... Just the way he’s leading the men, as far as defense, is impressive to see.” 

Campbell put on more upper body muscle during the offseason, an easy benefit to having a true offseason, as Glenn noted.

Jack Campbell is a too-easily overlooked breakout candidate for the Lions this year

Campbell was a top-20 linebacker by Pro Football Focus run grade last year (75.8). His pass rushing snap sample makes a low grade there practically meaningless. But his coverage grade, however you slice it (43.9 regular season; 35.3 including the playoffs), left a lot to be desired. From Thanksgiving on though (h/t to Will Burchfield of 97.1 The Ticket), presumably counting the playoffs, Campbell was PFF's 22nd-ranked linebacker.

Campbell had the highest PFF coverage grade among FBS linebackers in 2022 (92.9). In the other two seasons he played substantial snaps for Iowa, 2020 and 2021, he posted 79.5 and a 70.6 coverage grades respectively. So having a year under his belt should bring some substantial progress there in his second NFL season.

John Maakaron and Christian Booher at SI.com recently talked about the idea Campell will have an expanded role in the Lions' defense this year.

Matt Broder and Brandon Dent of Woodward Sports' "Wake Up Woodward" also talked about Campbell.

Most of the breakout buzz around Lions is focused on Jameson Williams, and to some extent Jahmyr Gibbs. But Campbell is firmly in that conversation too, even if he has been easy to overlook up to now.

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