The Green Bay Packers didn’t enter the offseason with a plethora of needs. In fact, like most years, the Packers had very few. But one place where Green Bay needs reinforcements is at inside linebacker.
Over the past two seasons, Green Bay has gotten by at inside linebacker in large part because of Clay Matthews. The All-Pro has split his snaps between inside and outside and while he has played well in those roles, his pass-rushing skills are too unique to go to waste.
In Matthews, Green Bay boasts one of the best edge rushers in the NFL and having him play down-in and down-out in the interior is a waste of his talent. That’s why head coach Mike McCarthy wants to move him back to outside linebacker and why the Packers need to find a new impact player inside.
One player that fits the mold of what Green Bay needs is linebacker Deion Jones of LSU.
Jones probably isn’t going to be a first-round pick. Right now, projections have him coming off the board in the second or third round, which is perfect for the Packers. At 6-1, 220-pounds, Jones is a bit undersized, but he is athletic and had the fifth-fastest time in the three-cone drill at the NFL combine.
After spending three years as a special teams guy and a backup at LSU, Jones was finally given a chance to start in 2015 and he made the most of his opportunity, racking up 100 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, six QB hurries, three passes defensed and two interceptions.
Of course, many Green Bay followers are focused on potential first-round linebackers such as Reggie Ragland of Alabama and it’s understandable why. Ragland is a good player, but he likely won’t be around when the Packers are on the clock. And beyond that, defensive line is another big need, one that Green Bay may be able to address at the end of round one.
Besides, Green Bay doesn’t need an old-school linebacker, it has that in Jake Ryan, a 2015 fourth-round pick, who racked up 50 tackles and three tackles for loss last season. He can hold up against the run and play the conventional role inside the 3-4 defense.
Jones is not that kind of player. He’s the kind of player that Packers haven’t had, ever in the era of Dom Capers as defensive coordinator.
Jones is a tremendous athlete and he’s a guy that makes explosive plays, both against the run and the pass. He excels when covering tight ends, an area where Green Bay was absolutely dreadful last season and he has the range to go sideline-to-sideline.
With his size, Jones could almost be a safety. And years ago, that might have been considered a misnomer. Yet, nowadays, with all the spread offenses and the move tight ends, a player with the skills combination to play linebacker and safety is exactly what’s needed.
Jones may not be the typical Packers selection. He only started for one season and is a guy with big upside. But, he did excel on special teams and can be relied to contribute there right away.
And generally, when the Packers take risks on athletes, they do it after the first round, when the risk is not as great.
That’s what makes Jones a perfect fit for Green Bay. He has all the attributes needed to excel in Capers’ defense and the fact that he won’t go in the first round, means Green Bay can focus on solidifying the offensive or defensive line or another position with that selection.
Jones is not a perfect prospect by any means. He sometimes gets washed away by offensive lineman and does lack size of an ideal inside linebacker. Yet, the game has changed. It’s more wide-open now, than ever and with all the backs and tight ends that can cause mismatches in the pass game against linebackers, the need for a player like Jones is greater than it’s ever been.