The Detroit Lions have not been shy about their expectations for first-round pick Jack Campbell in his rookie season. Both general manager Brad Holmes and coach Dan Campbell have told the media that they expect the former Iowa linebacker to make an instant impact in his first year.
“We believe that these guys are ready to go right now,” Holmes said on draft night, referring to both Jack Campbell and Jahmyr Gibbs.
“He’s one of the few linebackers we felt like can get it pretty quickly and we’ll see where he can go with it,” Dan Campbell told Good Morning Football earlier this month.
That’s not very typical for this staff. Usually, this group preaches patience and process with rookie talent. The last thing they want is the public crowning players before they even take the field, and they’re typically the first to tell everyone that each job is earned.
Behind the scenes, that has clearly been the message to Jack Campbell. During rookie minicamp, the 18th overall pick insisted that while he’s expected to be an important player for this defense, he’s not going to take his spot on the team for granted.
“Obviously it’s high expectations of me, but everything’s earned,” Jack Campbell said. “I’m gonna into a room with a lot of other guys that are gonna be super hungry. I look forward to meeting them, learning from them, and all I can do is prepare to the best of my ability and let my talents and everything else take me to where I need to go.”
Campbell had a storied career for Iowa as a two-year starter and captain for the Hawkeyes. In his final season, he was not only named First Team All-American, but he earned the Butkus Award (nation’s best linebacker) and William V. Campbell Award (academic Heisman).
That said, Lions coaches also haven’t been shy about aspects of his game that will need growth because of the limits within Iowa’s defensive scheme.
“They weren’t really unlocking his full potential as an athlete at college, because he’ll tell you, ‘At Iowa, we play a tough brand of football focused on stopping the run. We’re hard-nosed, downhill, shock people,’” linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard told the Detroit News. “So they don’t, the phrase I like to use, get spicy, where you’d see him doing exotic blitzes and showing off some of that athleticism.”
Dan Campbell also mentioned his potential to grow as a man-coverage linebacker.
“That’ll be an element where he’s gonna need to develop, continue to come along, but we all felt like it’s something he’s going to be able to do because he’s got (it) in his body,” he said on the Green Light with Chris Long podcast.
That said, Jack Campbell is walking into a situation where there is a clear path for immediate playing time. Though they re-signed Alex Anzalone to a three-year deal this offseason, the starting spot alongside him is wide open. Last year, that spot was occupied by sixth-round rookie Malcolm Rodriguez and second-year linebacker Derrick Barnes. The Lions made it clear they wanted more competition in that room, and Jack Campbell is eager to take on that challenge.
“It doesn’t matter, pick 1 through 200 or whatever, undrafted free agent, everyone’s the same,” Jack Campbell said of his biggest message from coaches. “You come out here every single day, do things the right way, and just work on those little things cause the little things are gonna turn into big things.”