Packers positions of need: Top performing LBs at NFL Combine

The linebacker position group went through the measurement and athletic testing portion of the NFL Scouting Combine on Thursday. Here were the top performers by Relative Athletic Score (RAS), which will be of major interest to the Green Bay Packers.

After safety, linebacker may be the biggest positional need on the Packers’ roster—both in terms of depth, and also equipping new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley with the right type of players to run his 4-3 defense.

During Brian Gutekunst’s time as general manager, there has been a strong connection between his selections and those players posting elite Relative Athletic Scores. You can read more about that here.

In short, 74 percent of Gutekunst’s draft picks have scored 8.0 or higher on the RAS scale, including nearly 50 percent above the 9.0 mark. The linebacker position, in particular, is one where Gutekunst has primarily selected the best of the best when it comes to pure athleticism.

Of the four linebacker draft picks made by Gutekunst, three – Quay Walker, Ty Summers, and Oren Burks – all registered an elite RAS of at least 9.63 out of 10. The only linebacker pick to score below 8.0 was Isaiah McDuffie at 7.32.

Below is the list of linebackers that posted a RAS of at least 8.0, but given Gutekunst’s history drafting this position group, pay close attention to those at the top of the list.

Payton Wilson, North Carolina State: 9.81
Trevin Wallace, Kentucky: 9.65
Edefuan Ulofoshio, Washington: 9.55
Edgerrin Cooper, Texas A&M: 9.34
Jordan Magee, Temple: 9.29
Curtis Jacobs, Penn State: 9.17
Cedric Gray, North Carolina: 8.92

As the Packers transition from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense, personnel-wise, Gutekunst doesn’t see there being a major shift in how the Packers build the linebacker position. But where there will be a difference is in the number of linebackers they roster, both on the 90-man and throughout the season on the active roster and practice squad.

“It’s a little thin right now,” Gutekunst said via Packer Central. “There’s some guys that we’d like to get back. We’re going to have to add. There’s not a lot of personnel changes we’re going to have to make with the scheme change, but we’ll probably have to carry a couple more linebackers into training camp and maybe one or two more through the 53- and 69-man roster as we go through. We’ll be a little bit more heavy there, so we’re going to have to add some numbers.”

That need for additional defenders at this position is then magnified by the fact that Quay Walker, Isaiah McDuffie, De’Vondre Campbell, and Christian Young are the only players on the roster at linebacker. Campbell is also a potential cut candidate, potentially further adding to the need, with the Packers saving $2.6 million in 2024 cap space by moving on from him—although Gutekunst did say at the Combine that they would “love” to have Campbell back.

When in their new base defense, which roughly could be for one-third of their defensive snaps, the Packers will have three inside linebackers on the field. McDuffie could fill in as the do-it-all middle linebacker, as could Walker.

However, Walker may be at his best in the weak-side role, operating in space and being asked to blitz. Regardless of where it is on the field, Hafley’s goal is to put Walker in consistent positions to make plays.

“Quay’s a talented player,” said Hafley. “As we build this thing, we’re going to make sure he’s in position to make a lot of plays. So whatever we feel, as we piece this together, where that is, that’s where we’ll put him.”

Depending on where Walker lines up, the Packers could try to upgrade the middle linebacker position and would also need to find a strong-side linebacker for when they are in base, which becomes especially true if they do move on from Campbell.

As free agency unfolds in just a few weeks, two familiar names to watch are Eric Wilson and Kristian Welch, both of whom would provide needed depth along with being core special teams players from a season ago. Both ranked in the top five on the team in special teams snaps and tackles.

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire