Seventh in a 10-part NFL draft position-preview series looking at prospects who might be of interest to the Packers. Today: Inside linebackers.
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine could do what his predecessor, Dom Capers, did and go with Blake Martinez and Jake Ryan in the middle again. Martinez improved by leaps and bounds, but despite tying for the NFL lead in tackles, he doesn’t offer the speed to consistently cover running backs in the slot or mobile tight ends down the field. Ryan is strictly a run player, so the Packers will probably be looking for someone who can help them on third downs. Their odds of landing either of the top two inside linebacker prospects, Roquan Smith and Tremaine Edmunds, aren’t great without a trade. So, Pettine might want someone who can fill the sub-package role that Joe Thomas once did. The Packers thought they were getting that in safety Josh Jones, but he might wind up being just a safety. Priority level: Medium.
SHAQUEM GRIFFIN, CENTRAL FLORIDA
6-foot, 227 pounds
If the Packers are looking for someone who can run, gives maximum effort and knows the game of football, Griffin is their man. It’s questionable whether Griffin can be an every-down inside linebacker at 227 pounds, but he’s ideal for sub-packages and he can easily come screaming off the edge and provide outside pass rush. Griffin was born with Amniotic Band Syndrome and had his left hand amputated at age 4. But he has compensated with relentless effort, 4.38-speed in the 40-yard dash and, according to reports, total dedication to the film room. Even if he’s limited to sub-packages, his special-teams potential will make him worth a second-day or early third-day pick. Projected round: 3-4.
LORENZO CARTER, GEORGIA
6-5, 250 pounds
Imagine having a bulked-up Kobe Bryant dropping back into zone coverage and patrolling the middle of the field. That’s pretty much what you’d have in Carter, whose height and arm length are about equal to the NBA legend. Add 25 pounds and imagine even bigger hands and you have the Georgia linebacker. Of course, this is football and nobody is going to be throwing him alley-oops, but you get the idea about Carter’s build. In addition, he ran the 40-yard dash in receiver speed (4.46), has a 36-inch vertical and nearly made it 11 feet on the broad jump. He played for a great college defense and has the versatility to play inside and outside, but scouts must determine whether he has the football instincts to go with the athleticism. Projected round: 3.
MICAH KISER, VIRGINIA
6-0, 238 pounds
If there’s a guy who represents what old-school middle linebackers do, it might be Kiser. He’s a tackling machine who spent a lot of time behind the line of scrimmage, totaling 411 tackles, including 32½ for loss, 19 sacks and eight forced fumbles. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.66 seconds, which is solid, but it’s questionable whether he has the athletic ability to be an every-down linebacker. Reports say that he’s mature (23 years old) and brings leadership in the locker room. He might be a cheaper version of Ryan who could also give the Packers some pop on special teams. Projected round: 5.
OREN BURKS, VANDERBILT
6-3, 233 pounds
Burks is a hybrid linebacker/safety and might fit some of what Pettine wants to do with his defense. He’s not Jones-fast, but he ran a 4.59-second 40-yard dash and posted a 39 ½-inch vertical leap. He played all over the field at Vanderbilt and would fit the “smart” player that cornerback Tramon Williams said is needed to play for Pettine. He was a two-year team captain and could fit an important sub-package role. If versatility is what Pettine is after, Burks could offer it. He was one of the Packers’ 30 official pre-draft visits. Projected round: 5.
Best and bust
In the Wolf-Sherman-Thompson era, the best could easily be a tie between A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett, both of whom played in the middle for most of their careers and had multiple years of 100 or more tackles. Barnett was the No. 29 pick in ’03 and Hawk the No. 5 pick in ’06. However, Desmond Bishop has to be in the discussion. A sixth-round pick in ’07, he dominated on special teams for three years and then gave the defense a big, physical presence as a starter in ’10 and ’11. A torn hamstring in ’12 cut his career short, but for where he was selected he was a great pick. On the other side, Thompson reached badly when he selected thin-legged Abdul Hodge in the third round of the 2006 draft. Hodge last eight games with the Packers before an injury sidelined him for the rest of ’06 and ’07. He finished his Packers career with 10 tackles.