After selecting running back Jahmyr Gibbs with pick No. 12 in the 2023 NFL Draft, Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes once again bucked the trend of traditional value by selecting Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell with the No. 18 overall pick.
Let’s take a look at what Campbell does on the football field, how he fits in with the current roster, and why Holmes was willing to gamble on him in the first round.
Campbell, 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, is a traditional MIKE linebacker with elite athleticism (9.98 RAS) for the position. A stat production machine, Campbell flows to the ball and averaged 10 tackles a game over his 27 career starts. If he continues his developmental arc, he has a ceiling that could mirror Logan Wilson’s (Bengals) career.
Campbell’s best trait is his instincts—when he sees a play developing he attacks downhill. When he anticipates properly, he can lean on his elite speed, but when he hesitates, he scales back his speed so he doesn't make errors, which leads to him not always playing up to his overall athleticism.
Another skill that the Lions coaches were surely gushing over is Campbell’s work ethic and preparation skills. He impressed the Lions with his interview at the Combine and according to Lions linebacker coach Kelvin Sheppard, they knew early that, “he is a Dan Campbell guy.”
While Sheppard was quick to say he wanted to see Campbell lineup up across from players at this level before making any definitive statements on where Campbell would play, Sheppard did say he believed Campbell had the capability to play multiple spots.
Campbell's best fit is as a MIKE linebacker at the next level, but the Lions just re-signed incumbent MIKE linebacker Alex Anzalone to a three-year contract this offseason, so something has to give.
While there will surely be some cross-positional movement, my early guess is that Campbell starts at the MIKE, with Anzalone shifting to the WILL, and Malcolm Rodriguez will be coming off the bench as the third option. Simply put, you don’t take a linebacker in the first round unless you expect them to start, so you can probably pencil in Campbell into the starting lineup once the regular season rolls around. While Campbell and Anzalone may end up being the technical starters, expect Rodriguez and Derrick Barnes to still find ways to break into the rotation.
At the end of the day, adding Campbell gives the Lions four linebackers that they can confidently rotate, something they have not had in years at the position.