Linebacker is a position which is not in desperate need of improvement for the Green Bay Packers, but it could certainly be upgraded. The linebacking corps saw AJ Hawk have his best season as a professional with 118 tackles and two sacks and an equally disappointing season from the injury-hampered Clay Matthews. As for the other two starting spots there was much left to be desired.
Brad Jones seemed like a strange fit for inside linebacker when he was moved from the outside to replace Desmond Bishop to begin with and Jones had a tough year. At first glance Jones had a fair season, statistically at least, as he had 80 tackles and three sacks. When put under a magnifying glass, though, it is clear there were major flaws in his game in 2013. Jones was below average in run support and in coverage allowed completions on 73 percent of the times he was targeted. Given the success Jones had at outside linebacker it is worth considering if Jones may be better off moving back to that position as it also had struggles. One possible switch could be to move Jones back to outside linebacker and give Jamari Lattimore an opportunity to start at middle linebacker, but that would be a longshot. Lattimore showed flashes of play-making ability and has a similar style of play to the aforementioned Bishop who was successful in his short time as a starter. It is more likely, though, that Green Bay will not tamper with their current inside linebacker situation as the free agent market at the position is fairly thin due to either age or character concerns. One potential fit for Green Bay could be Wesley Woodyard, who posted 84 tackles and 1.5 sacks with Denver last season. Woodyard fits the bill for Ted Thompson’s value equation as far as age and production are concerned, but may be too expensive since he played on a Super Bowl team last season. Other than Woodyard there are very few proven potential replacements for Jones on the market so the Packers probably won’t make a splash in the free agency for inside linebackers. As for the backups, it appears as though Coach Mike McCarthy is content with his backup middle linebackers after he stated his praise and belief in Sam Barrington last week.
Outside linebacker was a trouble spot for Green Bay last year mostly due to the fact that it was a revolving door. With Clay Matthews and Nick Perry on the shelf or not playing at full speed for a good portion of the season, the Packers were forced to experiment and had some bright spots in Mike Neal, Andy Mulumba and at times Jamari Lattimore, but it has become clear that those players were better suited in backup roles. As far as outside linebackers are concerned, Ted Thompson’s activity on the free agent market would have a lot to do with whether or not he decides to re-sign Mike Neal. If not, the Packers may look to replace him with another player of similar caliber, but again, the market is thin. The Packers need to hope that Nick Perry and Clay Matthews will stay healthy more than anything as outside linebacker may be a position they can only consider in the draft.
There is certainly a need for another inside linebacker to pair with Hawk and an outside linebacker to pair with Matthews. However, due to the market it is highly unlikely the Packers will pursue anyone in free agency. There is still a need however, so the Packers may address the need in the draft. There are more pressing needs at other positions that would have to be addressed with the higher picks, so if a linebacker is selected it will late in the draft. Linebacker may be considered in the middle rounds of the draft with inside linebacker likely coming first as Nick Perry will almost certainly be given one more year to prove himself at outside linebacker. Expect the Packers to stick with Jones and Perry for at least one more year and focus on the linebacker spots more in the 2015 draft.
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