When the Green Bay Packers signed linebacker De'Vondre Campbell to a minimal one-year, $2M contract this offseason, it looked initially to be a relatively minor move for a veteran defensive talent tasked with competing just to make the 53-man roster. A five-year vet with stops in Atlanta and Arizona, Campbell entered Green Bay with an unknown role but a driving hunger to produce. Joining a defense lacking in punch at the second level, Campbell has quickly become one of the most impactful defensive anchors for the 7-1 Packers.
On the field for 97% of Packers defensive snaps this fall, Campbell has been as impressive as any free-agent addition in all of football. Just how good has he been? Let me explain.
Not known for his ball production as a second-level defender, Campbell has amassed two interceptions in eight games and is on pace to shatter his career-highs in every major defensive category. Why is that important you ask? Through 91 career games prior to 2021, Campbell had recorded a total of three picks, with just two in the last four seasons combined in over 3,600 snaps played. A 6-foot-3 defender who’s worn many hats on defense since his arrival into the league, Campbell has looked to have finally found his fit inside Joe Barry’s unit. Whether he’s asked to attack downhill in the run, spy the quarterback, or line up on the perimeter opposite a tight end or running back, Campbell has become the swiss army knife for a defense that enjoyed it’s bumps and bruises at the beginning of the year.
While NFL offenses have continued to alter their scheme toward the air, the need for inside linebackers has become increasingly mute. As teams have looked to go smaller and quicker, often placing an extra safety or corner in the box, Campbell’s ability to play as the “Penny” defender in Green Bay has allowed Barry to become increasingly unique in his defensive looks. Green Bay hangs their hat on the base “bear” front, in which the Packers align three down linemen with two outside linebackers in a two-point stance. While it looks like a five-man front from the offense's perspective, Barry’s ability to both insert and subtract lineman and linebackers in base and in nickel has presented Campbell with more room to make plays, and an increased role that so far has looked like a dream addition for general manager Brian Gutekunst.
"The thing you love about [Campbell] him is his approach and his attitude. Very steady guy, very consistent guy," Aaron Rodgers said of Campbell. "As he's made plays, that allows you the opportunity to have a greater leadership responsibility and more opportunities to speak up.”
Often overlooked by his aforementioned past franchises, Campbell has been a breath of fresh air for Matt LaFleur’s group. Since the departure of Kyler Fackrell and Blake Martinez a few seasons ago, Green Bay has lacked a true inside linebacking presence with the ability to command the defense as the team’s green-dot defender. With Kenny Clark manning the middle, Preston Smith and Rashan Gary on the outside, and Jaire Alexander (when healthy) headlining the secondary, Green Bay has allowed less than 22 PPG their last five weeks, despite the Pro Bowler in Alexander proving absent since Week 4 due to a shoulder ailment.
"I've always kind of been the Robin to somebody else's Batman in everybody else's scheme," Campbell said. "I've always felt like I've been a good player, but now I'm actually having the opportunity to showcase my talent.”
Currently in the top five among all defenders in solo tackles (50) and total tackles (76), Campbell has proven to be much more than just the veteran flier he was thought to be this summer. A versatile athlete whose leadership and production have become the straw that stirs the Green Bay defense, Campbell’s career campaign must continue to flourish as Green Bay prepares for the Chiefs.
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