Inside linebacker talent, or lack thereof (at least when CM3 isn’t filling in), has been a sore subject for Packer fans throughout the Ted Thompson era.
In 2006, Ted Thompson took AJ Hawk #5 overall and Abdul Hodge in the 3rd round. One of those guys went on to a long, fruitful career, but neither of them came close to fulfilling the promise of their draft position. Still, those guys were drafted as 4-3 backers, not exactly the same as what the 3-4 ILB role the current scheme requires.
Since then, Ted has taken Terrell Manning in the 5th, Desmond Bishop, DJ Smith, Nate Palmer in the 6th, Brad Jones, and Sam Barrington in the 7th to try to address the 3-4 inside linebacker position.
Those aren’t premium picks.
There was some production here and there from some of those guys, but no long-term answers.
So in 2015, Ted broke down and spent a 4 on Jake Ryan, then in 2016, he spent another 4 on Blake Martinez (and let’s stop trying to convince ourselves that those guys are terrible).
This year, Cody Heiman is getting a lot of press (and drawing physical comparisons to Nick Barnett), but Ted wouldn’t even waste one of his 7th rounders on him (although we all know how much Ted loves those 7th rounders) and waited to pick him up as an UDFA.
So why hasn’t Ted spent more high picks on a position that even the fans can tell is under-manned?
Is it reality check time?
Defensive line is more important than inside linebacker.
Cornerback is more important than inside linebacker.
Safety, long the red-headed defensive stepchild of defense, is now more important than inside linebacker given rule changes and the evolution of offenses and the defensive schemes that have to contain them.
Outside linebacker, the feature position of the 3-4 defense, is way more important than inside linebacker (and needs to be drafted early).
Inside linebacker is the least important position on defense (and, based on TT’s draft record, less important than every position on offense).
“Best player available” is also a form of “best value available,” which is why no team in their right mind takes a kicker in the second round (how’s that working out for the Bucs?). Inside linebacker, as a BPA or MVA proposition, usually loses out to almost any other position. They aren’t even in the field all the time. So why spend a premium pick on one?
The Packers play a lot of nickel (just like everyone else in the NFL), and a lot of times, they use a safety as their nickel ILB. More teams are doing this and it underscores the evolution of the game and the decreasing value of the inside linebacker position.
It’s possible rookie safety Josh Jones plays a lot of ILB this year. Last year, veteran safety Morgan Burnett did. The game is changing and ILB is devalued around the league and in the Packers scheme.
So maybe there’s a reason TT isn’t using premium picks on ILBs. Let’s face it, inside linebacker isn’t the reason the Packers haven’t made it back to the Super Bowl since 2010. We should all probably just chill out about it.