By the time they were on the clock with the 29th pick of the NFL Draft, the Green Bay Packers not only found a linebacker available, they had the pick of the litter.
In selecting Oregon State's Nick Barnett, the Packers became the first team to take a linebacker off the board in the 2003 draft, erasing any doubt that they landed the man they coveted at that position.
"We had him as the top linebacker in the draft," GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman said after the selection. "I feel fortunate that he was able to be there when we were picking. I really didn't think he would make it this far."
In Barnett the Packers get a quick but strong linebacker who is still a month away from his 22nd birthday.
According to the Packers' coaching staff, Barnett led all linebackers at the scouting combine in both the bench press and short shuttle run.
Last season he led the Pac-10 Conference with 121 tackles.
Originally recruited to OSU as a defensive back, Barnett (listed at 6-foot-2, 236 pounds) has exceptional pass-coverage skills and the Packers believe he will be just as valuable on third down as he is stopping the run on first and second.
"I wouldn't take a linebacker in the first round that couldn't be on the field every down, and he's an every-down linebacker," Sherman said. "The fact that he is an excellent pass-coverage linebacker helps us, particularly with the teams that we play."
In selecting Barnett the Packers passed on other touted linebackers such as Georgia's Boss Bailey and Maryland's E.J. Henderson.
Sherman said injuries played some part in that determination, but also spoke highly about Barnett's character.
"It's important that you pick a guy that you want to go to war with," Sherman said. "I trust this pick. I think he's going to come in here and have an impact one way or the other on our team, whether it's immediately at linebacker or eventually, or immediately on special teams.
"He'll be a positive influence in the locker room. He loves football, this guy."
The Packers believe Barnett can play either middle or weak-side linebacker. They'll try him first in the middle, where Bernardo Harris and Hardy Nickerson roamed the previous two seasons.
Defensive coordinator Ed Donatell said Barnett offers an instant upgrade in terms of mobility at that position. But Sherman said Barnett won't be asked to carry the load from Day 1.
"I don't think the 29th pick has to be the starter on opening day," Sherman said. "But I think he has to impact us in some way as a linebacker, whether it's inside or outside, or as a special teams player ...
"When you're picking 29th it's a little bit different than picking in the top-10."
The Packers coaching staff expressed confidence that Barnett will make an immediate impact on the defense. It's not just his physical skills that give them peace of mind, but his attitude as well.
"He has a great work ethic," Sherman said. "He's very humble, but he has great vision for himself. He sees himself being a great player in this league. He's going to work as hard as anybody has ever worked."
Said linebackers coach Mark Duffner: "He's an all-out guy in everything that he does. If we were here right now playing ping-pong, he'd want to be the best in this room. That's what I like about this guy."