The Detroit Lions drafted linebacker Jack Campbell with the 18th overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft with the full intention that he would eventually become their starting MIKE linebacker for the next decade or longer. Campbell enters the NFL with a rare combination of elite size and elite speed. At Iowa, Campbell displayed leadership, football IQ, and the ability to do just about everything on the field.
But thus far, Campbell has almost exclusively been repping with the second-team defense in training camp and preseason. Lions coaches will tell you this has less to do with Campbell himself and more to do with third-year linebacker Derrick Barnes taking a huge leap in development.
At one point in camp, the Lions gave Campbell some time with the first-team offense alongside Alex Anzalone. However, that didn’t seem to last all that long, as Barnes reclaimed the position and continues to be the first on the field today.
So today’s Question of the Day is:
Will Derrick Barnes start over Jack Campbell in Week 1?
My answer: I think he will, and I don’t think that’s a problem.
It’s easy to see Barnes’ progress on the field (despite a puzzling 28.9 PFF grade from Saturday). He’s playing more instinctively, he’s playing faster, and he’s playing more aggressively.
Barnes is continuing to pop on the tape. pic.twitter.com/YOStn3Zr95— Jeremy Reisman (@DetroitOnLion) August 20, 2023
This is a coaching staff that constantly preaches that draft position or contract terms will not determine who plays for them. Last year, they started Malcolm Rodriguez—a sixth-round rookie—because he was their best player in the preseason and training camp. Right now, I believe Barnes to be that player.
That isn’t to say that Campbell has been bad or that him not starting is a failure of any type. He’s certainly made some plays in the preseason, although I don’t put a ton of stock into the fact that he leads the team in tackles. Watching him, you can see that the wheels are still turning a bit. He’s hesitating, processing, and it costs him a step or two.
Of course, all of that is 100 percent normal for a rookie linebacker who is expected to be the MIKE. That is why I wouldn’t be worried if Campbell starts the season coming off the bench. There’s no reason to believe the game won’t slow down for him eventually. And in the meantime, let Barnes hold down the fort with better play during a season in which you expect to seriously compete.
Some may see Campbell not starting in Week 1 as a huge issue or a sign the Lions made the wrong pick. However, I see Detroit as having an ideal situation for him: they don’t have to rush him on the field if he isn’t ready, and when he is, he can hit the ground running.
What do you think of the Lions’ starting MIKE linebacker job? Scroll down to the comment section and let us know.
Who will be the Week 1 starter at MIKE linebacker?
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