I love the NFL Combine. Can it be a little overrated and overstated? Sure, just like anything else. But I’m not going to be one of the curmudgeons on Twitter downplaying it in the weeks and days leading up to the event. Because every single person who does that has the same reaction when a linebacker runs a 4.4 or a wide receiver runs 4.2-something.
Oh my God, did you see that? This is crazy.
That’s how football should be. It’s fun to get excited to watch these mega-athletes work. Embrace it.
One day into the on-field workouts, I’m sure embracing Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell.
But he’s no workout warrior. He had the chops coming into the week. Well-built at 250 pounds, a rarity for the off-ball position in today’s NFL, his production for the Hawkeyes was off the charts. 299 career tackles, 125+ each of the last two years, with ten pass breakups, five interceptions, and three forced fumbles. He played the run, he played the pass, he simply made plays.
The Combine isn’t where a player will solely cement his draft stock. But it’s a final impression to leave NFL teams. And oh boy, did Campbell leave a good one. Simply put, it was an A+ workout, one of the best of his position of the last decade. According to Kent Lee Platte’s Relative Athletic Score, Campbell finished with a 9.98, a borderline historically good figure.
Pre-Combine, the biggest conventional concern over Campbell was his athleticism. He’s big, so he can fill the run, but could he move in space and cover? A requirement for modern-day linebackers and the reason why you don’t see 250-pounders like him anymore. Campbell’s 40 time was solid, especially given his frame, his explosion numbers were excellent, but his agility numbers were off-the-charts. His 4.24 short shuttle and 6.74 three-cone were the best marks of any of the front seven players who tested Thursday, edge rushers, off-ball linebackers, or defensive linemen. A 6.74 three-cone is outstanding; anything sub-seven seconds should be considered great and only one other player working out yesterday, Eastern Michigan’s Jose Ramirez, hit that mark (6.95).
Campbell will never be Fred Warner but he can cover with short-area quickness and a good football IQ. The numbers, his tape, and now his testing prove that out. Just because a linebacker runs fast doesn’t mean he can cover. They’re different skillsets. Devin Bush is proof enough of that. Campbell’s tape shows he has the FBI (football intelligence), angles, and burst to match underneath routes.
So Campbell’s done all he can do. The only problem with that is the rise in his “stock.” While that’s often overstated, players who test well get drafted earlier. Campbell’s profile makes him a unicorn. If he was 220 pounds and a great tester, it would be valuable but not all that interesting. Small guys test well – or at least they should. Campbell is testing well with great size. He isn’t some former safety his team spun down. He’s a true linebacker who shows every-down ability. That means his price tag just went up and if Pittsburgh wants him, they may have to take him at #32. Campbell’s now squarely in that conversation to be the first off-ball linebacker off the board, right up there alongside Clemson’s Trenton Simpson and Arkansas’ Drew Sanders, both of whom also had nice days yesterday.
Pittsburgh will likely have an opening at inside linebacker. After so many attempts and whiffs of addressing the position in free agency, it’s time to look through the draft. It’s time to look at Jack Campbell, who checks everything the Steelers look for.