Seventh in a 10-part NFL draft position-preview series looking at prospects who might be of interest to the Packers. Today: Inside linebackers.
GREEN BAY - How much would you give to have the next Derrick Brooks or Brian Urlacher on your roster?
Probably a lot.
When it comes to the draft, the next (insert name here) is always a projection and so if you’re the Green Bay Packers you weigh your needs vs. your options before considering a move up the board.
How much would you be willing to give up to convince San Francisco or Oakland or Miami to pass up two of the more intriguing inside linebacker prospects since Luke Kuechly and Dont’a Hightower came out in 2012.
Georgia’s Roquan Smith and Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds stand a very good chance of being taken in the first dozen selections of the 2018 NFL draft despite inside linebacker becoming far less of a glamour position in the NFL.
The 6-1, 236-pound Smith might be the safest pick in the draft because of his combination of speed (4.51-second 40-yard dash), smarts and production. The 2017 Butkus Award winner as the nation’s top linebacker totaled 232 tackles and 6 ½ sacks in two seasons as a starter for the Bulldogs.
NFL DRAFT PREVIEW: Inside linebackers who might fit Packers
NFL DRAFT PREVIEW: Offensive linemen who might fit with Packers
Like Brooks, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Hall of Famer, and Patrick Willis, the former San Francisco all-pro, Smith has the makeup to be a three-down linebacker in a passing league.
“He won’t be there,” an NFL executive said when asked about Smith lasting to No. 14. “I could see Oakland taking him (at No. 10).”
Edmunds isn’t the atypical inside linebacker that Smith is and there are some teams that will consider moving him outside in a 3-4 defense. At 6-4½, 253 pounds, Edmunds has an 83-inch wingspan and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.54 seconds.
He is only 19, but he comes from a football family and hasn’t been severely downgraded for being immature physically or mentally. He is not as finished a product as Smith, but because of his size and length, he may turn out to be more versatile.
Some teams will try to stand him up outside in a 3-4, but others want him in the middle of the field.
“No way,” said an NFL general manager about playing Edmunds outside, even as a situational rusher. “You stick him inside and keep him there. He’s like Urlacher. You let him stay in the middle and take away the passing game. He can rush up the middle if you need that.”
Edmunds is also unlikely to be available at No. 14, but a lot will depend on how much of a scramble there is for quarterbacks. Buffalo’s pick at No. 12 could wind up being highly sought after if there’s a run on quarterbacks.
The Packers would probably have to move ahead of that to get either inside linebacker.
If they could get the 49ers to give up their pick at No. 9, the Packers would have to compensate them with around 250 points on the draft trade value chart. And that’s provided the 49ers don’t ask for the moon.
The 49ers' pick is worth 1,350 points. The Packers’ pick is worth 1,100. The Packers might offer No. 14, their third-round selection (No. 76, 210 points) and their second fourth-round selection (No. 133, 39 points) and their first fifth (No. 172, 22.2 points).
If the 49ers took the Packers’ third, they would have picks No. 70, 74 and 76. For a team that needs lots of help, that might not be a bad proposition.
If one of the two linebackers lasts until No. 11, the Packers might be able to convince Miami to swap spots with just their third-round pick. That would be 60 more points than the draft chart says the Packers should give, but they might deem it worthwhile for a potential impact player on defense.
As much as the Packers need help at corner and in pass rush, the potential of having a three-down inside linebacker with better speed and coverage ability than Blake Martinez might excite defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.
There won’t be a sure-fire pass rusher available at No. 14 and the chance of one of the three best defensive backs falling that far isn’t very good, either.
The question general manager Brian Gutekunst would have to ask himself is whether it’s worth moving up for a player who won’t cover wide receivers and won’t have an immediate impact on the pass rush.
Smith said during media interviews at the combine that there’s still a ton of value to be had with inside linebackers.
“I don’t feel like it’s underrated,” Smith said. “Because great teams have great defensive players, more so at the linebacker position. You can take control of a defense. Pretty much most of the time we’re the leaders of the defense. And you have to make a lot of plays. And all of the checks for a defense.
“Very good linebackers can definitely elevate defenses.”
Edmunds said he thinks he can contribute in more than one way and shouldn’t be typecast as just a 4-3 Mike linebacker. He said where there is versatility, there is value.
"The NFL now, it's a different game, so a lot of teams are looking at guys who can play different positions,” he said at the combine. “I let them decide that thing (where to play him).
“I just try to perform the best way I can, put on film the best me, so whichever way they see me playing, I'm comfortable with that. I'd adjust to it."
There is some talent at the position beyond the top two and if the Packers don’t select someone early, there are plenty of fast, undersized inside linebackers who could be used in sub packages. There were 10 non-edge linebackers who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds or fewer at the combine and there are a number of others in the 4.6 range who will be available later in the draft.
There are also some traditional inside linebackers like Wisconsin’s Jack Cichy, but many come with size or speed question marks. Cichy comes with an injury risk after not playing a down since October of 2016.
Like some teams, the Packers might be willing to use their safeties as inside linebackers in sub packages, but given all the different personnel groupings Pettine likes to use, another inside backer couldn’t hurt.