The Detroit Lions continued to throw off draft experts on the opening night of the 2023 NFL Draft by selecting Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell with the 18th overall pick. Campbell was the first linebacker off the board, and many analysts had him as the best prospect at his position. Others argue that linebacker isn’t a high-value position and the Lions could have had a chance at Campbell later in the draft—perhaps with the team’s newly-acquired 34th overall pick.
Let’s dig a little deeper into this pick with some instant analysis.
Brad Holmes doesn’t care about your mocks, nor your positional value
Running back and linebacker weren’t high on the Lions’ needs board. Those positions aren’t viewed as very valuable by the analytics community. But Lions general manager Brad Holmes made a statement on Thursday night: I don’t care.
Of course, this shouldn’t be a complete surprise. Holmes said last week that he wasn’t afraid to take the backlash just because his pick doesn’t line up with some of the mock drafts out there.
“You’ve just got to make the best pick that you can and be confident with it,” Holmes said. “Post-draft and immediate draft grades, when the pick didn’t line up with those mocks, you’ve got to be willing and comfortable to take the thrashing because they didn’t line up with the mock.”
Still, this is a pretty big departure from previous drafts. The Lions targeted high-value positions at edge defender, offensive tackle, and wide receiver with their previous first-round picks. Now, they’ve taken two positions that many consider the lowest-value in the NFL, short of special teams.
Jack “Dan” Campbell
Kudos to MLive’s Ben Raven for pulling this quote from Jack Campbell at the NFL Combine:
New Lions LB Jack Campbell at the scouting combine. Had this one saved just in case— Ben Raven (@BenjaminSRaven) April 28, 2023
"I love having that green dot on the back of my head ... If I make a mistake, I kinda like being able to be the first one to raise my hand and just get a bunch of chewing tobacco in my eyes ..."
There may not be a more Dan Campbell football character guy than Jack Campbell. Not only was he a two-time captain at Iowa, but he was clearly beloved by the coaching staff there, too. Watch Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz react to a question about Campbell:
Jack Campbell said the reason he came to Iowa was to play for Kirk Ferentz. Coach Ferentz got choked up answering the question.— Chelsie Brown (@ChelsieTBrown) December 30, 2022
It's a good thing I was in the back of the room with a giant camera blocking my face. pic.twitter.com/x2XLpO7HXd
If you happened to watch the latest episode of “Inside the Den,” you can really see how important character is to this team.
Lions fans have lamented at the team’s lack of a coverage linebacker. Well, they have a capable player there now. Campbell earned a 92.9 coverage grade from PFF last year—the highest in the country—and tallied 11 passes defended and four interceptions in the past two seasons.
But his value doesn’t stop there. His 87.0 PFF run defense grade ranked ninth in college football, and with ridiculous size (6-foot-5, 249 pounds), he’ll be a tough second-level block for any offensive lineman.
In other words, the Lions got themselves a true three-down linebacker to pair with Alex Anzalone—something they were likely missing.
But what about Malcolm?
The Lions just handed Alex Anzalone a three-year, $18.75 million contract. He isn’t going anywhere and will likely start alongside Campbell. It will be interesting to see if Campbell takes the green dot or if Anzalone will maintain it. Linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard indicated that he plans to cross-train Campbell—as he does everyone in his room.
But with the Lions playing mostly in two-linebacker sets, it appears that Malcolm Rodriguez could see his playing time take a significant nosedive in his second season. Rodriguez was a pleasant surprise as a sixth-round pick last year, but his size limitations (5-foot-11, 232) may cap his ceiling.