For years, Las Vegas Raiders fans have been begging the team’s brass to draft a dominant linebacker only to be disappointed when the NFL Draft is over. The Raiders are once again in a spot where they could use someone to patrol the middle of their defense, making Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell a potential second-round target for Las Vegas.
Size is the first thing that stands out about the 2022 Butkus Award winner, who measures in at 6’4 5/8” and tips the scale at 249 pounds. That’s part of why he ranked second among Big 10 linebackers with an 87.0 run defense grade from Pro Football Focus (minimum 150 run defense snaps) in 2022. He has the old-school linebacker size to take on blocks from offensive linemen and bring running backs down to prevent first downs.
But Campbell is more than just a bruiser in the running game. At the NFL Combine, he turned heads with elite testing numbers that earned a 9.98 out of 10 RAS score which led his position group. That’s part of why he led all FBS backers with an elite 92.9 PFF coverage grade last season.
Size-wise, the Hawkeye looks the part of a traditional linebacker who can come downhill and be a force against the run, while his athleticism allows him to fit into the modern, pass-happy game. That’s how he is the perfect blend between an old- and a new-school linebacker.
Don’t believe me? Let’s turn to the tape!
Great job of playing to both the QB and pitch man by Jack Campbell pic.twitter.com/yuPHbk7AHc— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) April 11, 2023
We’ll start with an example of how Campbell can impact the running game.
Michigan is running a speed option to the trips side of the formation and the short side of the field. They leave Campbell unblocked as he’s the quarterback’s read man, and Campbell recognizes the offense’s play call immediately and gets to his landmark.
He’s in a perfect position to play the quarterback if the quarterback keeps it, but J.J. McCarthy wisely pitches the ball as there’s no room to run with the backer sitting in the gap. Once Campbell sees that, he kicks it into second gear and is able to close on the running back to make a TFL. Notice how he does a great job of running his feet through contact to make sure Blake Corum can’t escape or even get back to the line of scrimmage.
This is teach-tape material for linebackers on how to play both the quarterback and pitchman against the option. Also, a shoutout to the edge defender for beating the tight end’s block to the outside.
Great job by Jack Campbell of coming downhill to force Corum to bounce, then showing off his athleticism to match Corum on the bounce & cutback pic.twitter.com/vIIcXWCGBs— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) April 11, 2023
The next play is an example of how the Iowa product’s athleticism can help him as a run defender.
Michigan runs duo and it looks like Campbell is responsible for the strongside D-gap or anything outside of the tight end. He comes downhill to fulfill his run responsibilities and that, plus the right defensive tackle getting penetration, forces Corum to bounce outside.
That’s where the backer’s agility comes into play as he’s able to move laterally and match the running back nearly stride-for-stride to the far hash. Because of that, Corum can’t get to the edge and starts to cut up the field, and Campbell throttles down, sinks his hips and makes the tackle two yards past the line of scrimmage.
The ability to one, beat an elite running back to the edge and two, change directions to make the play for a short gain is not something you’re going to see from a lot of backers.
Beautiful job of taking on and getting off the block by Jack Campbell to make the play pic.twitter.com/ZyIP9bgRbf— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) April 11, 2023
How about a clip where he has to take on a block? Ask and you shall receive!
Ohio State is running inside zone and the play-side guard and tackle are going to combo block the 2i-technique defensive tackle and work up to the linebacker. Campbell starts coming downhill, anticipating one of the two linemen is coming to block him, and he takes on the block with good pad level and hand placement.
That allows him to get a leverage advantage, standup and get extension against the center as his strength is on display in this rep. From there, he reads the running back’s path, sheds the center’s block to the outside and is in a perfect position to make the play a few yards past the line of scrimmage.
Another example of teach-tape material from Campbel, this time on how to stack and shed a block.
This won’t show up on the stat sheet but is a good example of Jack Campbell’s vision/instincts in coverage to help his teammate take away the short curl pic.twitter.com/b62eQE81KK— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) April 11, 2023
We’ll pivot to a few clips in coverage and our first one won’t show up on the stat sheet but it highlights Campbell’s vision and instincts in zone coverage to help his teammate.
Iowa is playing a version of Cover 3 here where the outside corners are maned-up with the outside receivers but everyone is in zone coverage. Campbell—the linebacker who starts the play in the ‘O’—is responsible for the hook-to-curl area on the wide side of the field.
He starts by matching the tight end’s route to the flat, but once he realizes the tight end is going to leave his area, he turns his head and takes a peek to locate any other threats coming into his zone. That’s how he’s able to see the wide receiver inside releasing and running the short curl, so he sinks and opens his hips to give his teammate some help and take the receiver away from the quarterback.
This is excellent route recognition and a play that Campbell likely made by putting the work on Monday through Friday in the film room.
Jack Campbell reads Stroud’s eyes and makes one hell of an interception pic.twitter.com/ewjwx5QefO— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) April 11, 2023
Here’s a great example of Campbell’s awareness and athleticism in coverage to make one hell of a play on the ball.
Iowa is playing zone coverage again and Campbell is responsible for the middle of the field. His job becomes more difficult when Ohio State runs play-action as he has to come downhill to play the run. However, once he reads the fake, he starts working for depth to get to his landmark in coverage.
Watch Campbell’s eyes throughout the entire rep. After the fake, he takes a look in the backfield to read CJ Stroud’s eyes, and when he recognizes Stroud is under duress, he knows he has time to turn his head and see if anyone is coming across the middle.
From there, Campbell whips his head back around to read Stroud and keeps working for depth so that when the ball comes, he is in a position to stick one of his big paws in the passing lane and make a beautiful interception.
Jack Campbell gets his hand in the passing lane to create a turnover pic.twitter.com/TUxKUVnwHh— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) April 11, 2023
We’ll go back in time to the 2021 season for our last clip and see a rep that is pretty similar to the last one.
The Hawkeyes are playing Cover 4 here and Campbell is responsible for the middle hook area of the field. Post-snap, he could honestly do a better job of working for depth, but we’ll another example of his eye discipline as he locates the threat coming to his area and moves his head back toward the quarterback.
Taulia Tagovailoa (yes, Tua’s brother) thinks he can float this pass over Campbell’s head, but that’s where the backer’s size and length come in handy as he gets a piece of the ball to create a turnover. The man simply patrols the middle of the defense really well which is something the Raiders’ defense has been missing for several years.
To be honest, I don’t have a lot of negatives when it comes to Campbell and most are pretty nitpicky.
He does tend to fall for pre-snap eye candy with motions and shifts by the offense that can cause him to get caught out of position. That will be an issue against play-callers from the Andy Reid or Kyle Shanahan coaching trees, but it’s also something that a lot of young linebackers struggle with and can improve with more experience.
Probably my biggest concern that could be a bigger issue in the NFL is Campbell does like to take on blocks square instead of getting on an edge. Against bigger and stronger offensive linemen at the next level, that could make it more difficult for him to hold his ground against the run.
You might have heard a defensive line or linebackers coach talking about “taking on half the man instead of the whole man”, and this is what they’re talking about. Campbell likes to rely on his strength to take on the whole man which can be more difficult when the men get bigger.
At the end of the day, there’s a reason why the Butkus Award winner is my top linebacker in this draft class. As stated in the introduction, he has a blend of old-school linebacker size with new-school linebacker athleticism, both of which can’t be taught. I am worried that he’s not going to be available with the 38th pick overall, but if he is, the Raiders should waste no time turning the card in.