Similar to other editions of this series, the Detroit Lions’ plan for their linebackers in 2021 did not work out the way they had hoped.
This was always going to be a position group that had a steep learning curve, as general manager Brad Holmes was tasked with flipping the room, since the Lions were transitioning away from the base defense employed by the previous regime. In order to get through the 2021 season, Holmes had to slap a couple of band aids on this unit and hope for the best.
As the season began, those aforementioned band aids did not hold up really long. Veteran linebacker Jamie Collins was released early in the year after the Lions couldn’t find a trade partner. Rookie Derrick Barnes had an up and down campaign, while Jalen Reeves-Maybin saw the most defensive snaps of his career after largely spending the previous three on special teams. Alex Anzalone also saw career highs in snaps during his time with the Lions, after spending his first four years with the New Orleans Saints in a more niche role as a coverage linebacker.
Clearly, this group needs attention, and with more resources at their disposal this time around, I expect the Lions’ front office to begin addressing the issue in free agency. You can find the contract status of each linebacker, as well as the rest of the roster, here.
- 5 free agent quarterbacks to watch
- 5 free agent running backs to watch
- 5 free agent wide receivers to watch
- 5 free agent tight ends to watch
- 5 free agent offensive linemen to watch
- 5 free agent interior defensive lineman to watch
- 5 free agent EDGE defenders to watch
Let’s just get this one out of the way. In a surprise move shortly after the blockbuster deal involving quarterback Russell Wilson and the Denver Broncos, the Seattle Seahawks cut ties with eight-time, All-Pro linebacker, Bobby Wagner.
Coming off of a 2021 season in which he recorded a career-high 170 tackles, the 31-year-old linebacker has plenty left in the tank, and should have plenty of suitors for his services. He would immediately be the best linebacker on the Lions roster by a considerable margin and would likely become a great mentor for Derrick Barnes.
A true three-down linebacker, Campbell is one of the rare linebackers in today’s game that doesn’t have to come off of the field. He can be your single linebacker in obvious passing downs, as well as get down hill to fit up a run during short yardage situations. After signing a one-year, $2 million deal with the Green Bay Packers, he earned All-Pro honors, while recording 145 total tackles, two forced fumbles, two interceptions and two sacks.
After not having a huge market last year in free agency, I expect there to be much more competition for Campbell’s services this time around. He’s definitely earned himself a nice payday.
Having just led the NFL with 192 tackles last season, Oluokun is another young player who has set himself up to make some money this spring.
Oluokun has the speed to play any linebacker role on the Lions’ defense, and despite him only being listed at 218 pounds, his playing strength doesn’t show it.
Maybe the most enticing (and surprising, given his relatively small frame for the position) aspect of his game is his availability, having only missed one game during his four seasons with the Atlanta Falcons.
Maybe my favorite player on this list, White brings a lot to the table that the Lions could certainly use. Slightly undersized at 6-foot-2, 216 pounds, White is a converted safety, still learning the ins and outs of the linebacker position.
Despite the position change, he had a career year in 2021 finishing with 144 tackles. Not bad for someone who has only been in the NFL for four years. White would be at his best as an outside linebacker in the Lions scheme, where he could best utilize his range to defend against the pass.
A fourth-round pick in the 2018 draft, Jewell has turned into a nice player over the last four years.
While he does not possess elite athleticism, and isn’t necessarily great at any one skill, Jewell does everything a defensive coordinator would ask of a linebacker. Being able to play multiple positions is another positive that will surely entice plenty of teams looking to bolster their linebacking corps.