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Bold prediction of the week: Jack Campbell finds his footing as LB1

Can Detroit Lions rookie linebacker Jack Campbell turn a corner as LB1 in New Orleans?

Las Vegas Raiders v Detroit Lions Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

As the season rolls on, the Detroit Lions, like every team, are taking their fair share of hits. The latest casualty is Alex Anzalone, who’s slated to miss at least one game, possibly more. That means it’s time for Jack Campbell to learn on the fly, whether he likes it or not.

Bold prediction of the week: Jack Campbell leads Lions in tackles against Saints

Alex Anzalone’s absence is not good news for the Lions defense. Not only is Anzalone playing the best ball of his career, he’s playing like one of the best linebackers in the league, both against the run and the pass.

Jack Campbell? Not so much. That doesn’t matter against the Saints, though. It’s going to be trial by fire for the rookie who has had a rollercoaster of a season. His snap counts as an edge rusher have gone down, as Jeremy pointed out in Week 12 snap counts:

It’s worth noting that Campbell’s experiment on the EDGE as a pass rusher appears to be mostly over. In the past four games combined, he’s played just 10 snaps on the edge, per PFF.

It has to be over on Sunday, as the Lions will likely lean on him as a true off ball LB1 against New Orleans.

Derrick Barnes has been the clear LB2 for the Lions as of late, surpassing Campbell in snap counts by a wide margin over last three games. The Lions are giving Barnes as much as he can handle, but he has his limits. Part of why he has excelled this season is because he has been asked to do what he is good at, which is defend the run. He’s not a very agile linebacker in coverage, so the Lions may turn to the more athletic Campbell to take on that role.

Beyond that, Campbell hasn’t been far off from leading the team in tackles in many games this season. He often finds himself in position to make plays in run defense, but has struggled with being a second late or slipping his contain assignments, and that has cost him tackles.

If the Lions opt for him as LB1 to fill in for Anzalone, I trust they’ll be diligent to simplify the responsibilities for him as he takes on a new role. He should have plenty of clear opportunities to keep everything in front of him and make straightforward plays and fill in his stat sheet nicely.

The Saints may be compelled to keep things on the ground, too. Quarterback Derek Carr has struggled mightily as of late, with two of his three worst games by QBR coming in his last two starts.

For all we know, Campbell could be as lost Sunday as he has been in recent weeks. Or, playing as LB1 could be a revelation. Hopefully it’s the latter, and the Lions can see him blossom into the linebacker they drafted him to be.

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After winning their first NFC North title in 30 years, the Lions have unfinished business this offseason. Stay updated with Jeremy Reisman through Pride of Detroit Direct, our newsletter offering up exclusive analysis. Sign up with NFCNORTH30 to get 30% off after your free trial.