"Pre-draft picture" is a position-by-position look at the Packers' roster heading into the 2022 NFL Draft. The series continues with the linebackers.
GREEN BAY – The Packers know who their primary starters are at both the inside and outside linebacker spots.
But everything after that is wide open, making this a draft within which the defense could find some valuable rotational pieces and future regulars.
On the inside, the linchpin is All-Pro De'Vondre Campbell, who became one of the best free-agent signings, and stories in general, in 2021.
After four years with the Falcons and one with the Cardinals, Campbell was searching for the right free-agent opportunity last spring and waited until June to sign with Green Bay. Just one week remained in the offseason program.
But it didn't take long once training camp began for Campbell (6-3, 232) to take over as the centerpiece and signal caller in coordinator Joe Barry's defense. Becoming a leader on and off the field, Campbell enjoyed a career year, racking up 145 tackles and making an impact all sorts of other ways – with six tackles for loss, two sacks, six QB hits, two interceptions, five passes defensed, two forced fumbles and one recovery.
His first-team All-Pro selection was a first for a Packers inside linebacker since Hall of Famer Ray Nitschke in the 1960s. A pending free agent in March, Campbell was the Packers' top priority to re-sign, and he's back in Green Bay on a multi-year deal that should provide a level of stability to the middle of Barry's defense.
"The season he had, I'm so impressed with the person and the player, and he just made a world of difference for the defense," General Manager Brian Gutekunst said this offseason. He also referred to Campbell as a durable defender who took "our defense to a new level" with "numbers (that) were off the charts."
Campbell's most frequent companion at inside linebacker last season was Krys Barnes, who has started 23 games over two years since arriving undrafted from UCLA in 2020. Barnes (6-2, 229) is a steady presence with consistent numbers (78 and 79 tackles last two seasons) whose game has made strides in pass coverage as he tallied four passes defensed in 2021.
The rest of the team's current inside 'backers – Ty Summers, Isaiah McDuffie and Ray Wilborn – have played primarily special teams to this point when active, which makes a potential draft addition here potentially an immediate competitor for playing time.
Summers (6-1, 241), a seventh-round draft pick in 2019 from TCU, led the squad in special-teams tackles in 2020, when he also got his most extensive work on defense filling in when injuries struck. He missed the first games of his three-year career late last season due to injury.
McDuffie (6-1, 227), a sixth-round pick a year ago from Boston College, played in 13 games as a rookie on special teams with two coverage tackles. Wilborn (6-3, 230) spent all of last season on the practice squad after entering the league undrafted from Ball State in 2020. He originally signed with Atlanta and then spent time as a rookie on Pittsburgh's practice squad.
Take a look at the top prospects at linebacker heading into the 2022 NFL Draft.
Smith (6-5, 265) bounced back from a down year statistically in 2020 to re-emerge as a defensive leader in 2021, particularly during the absence of Za'Darius Smith, who played in only the opener and playoff game due to a back injury before signing with Minnesota as a free agent.
Preston missed the first game of his career last season but has now played in 118 of a possible 119 games over seven years, including playoffs. In his three seasons in Green Bay since coming from Washington as a free agent, he has 25 sacks, plus two more in the postseason, and he signed a contract extension last month to continue his career with the Packers for the foreseeable future.
Gary's emergence in his third season, since arriving as a first-round draft pick from Michigan in 2019, also helped compensate for Za'Darius Smith's lengthy injury absence last year. Gary (6-5, 277) led the defense with 9½ sacks and 28 QB hits, and then put on a tour-de-force performance in the playoffs that portends even bigger and better things in 2022.
Behind Smith and Gary, though, the Packers' edge rushers are largely unproven, though they've all played rotationally in the early stages of their careers.
Jonathan Garvin (6-4, 257), a seventh-round pick from Miami in 2020, played in all but one game last year (starting one) and posted 1½ sacks and five QB hits.
Tipa Galeai (6-5, 229), undrafted out of Utah State in 2020, spent his rookie season on the practice squad and got his first NFL sack last season in seven appearances.
La'Darius Hamilton (6-2, 261), undrafted from North Texas State who spent his 2020 rookie season on the Dallas Cowboys' practice squad, was signed off of Tampa Bay's practice squad early last season and was up and down between Green Bay's active roster and practice squad the rest of the year.
Randy Ramsey (6-3, 238), undrafted from Arkansas in 2019 and a Green Bay practice-squadder as a rookie, played a dozen games in 2020 and was possibly headed for a key rotational role last season, but a leg injury in training camp landed him on injured reserve for the year.
New outside linebackers coach Jason Rebrovich spoke last week about wanting a solid rotation of four on game day, and any draft additions could contend for those third and fourth spots.