Here is a breakdown of the Atlanta Falcons’ 2016 fourth-round pick: Minnesota linebacker De’Vondre Campbell.
BIO & VITALS
Height: 6’3⅝ ”
Arm Length: 33⅝”
Hand Size: 9⅝”
40 Time: 4.58
Three Cone: 7.07
Bench Press: 16
Vertical Jump: 34″
Broad Jump: 116″
De’Vondre Campbell was born on July 1, 1993 in Fort Myers, Florida and attended Cypress Lake High School, where he played defensive end.
Due to poor grades he was compelled to enroll at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas out of high school. He redshirted his first season there due to a concussion, but came back as a freshman to tally 83 tackles, eight tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, one interception (returned for a 34-yard touchdown), four pass breakups and a fumble recovery in 12 games at outside linebacker. Thereafter he verbally committed to the University of Tennessee but wound up at Minnesota when Derek Dooley and his entire coaching staff was fired at the former school.
He started three out of 13 games as a sophomore during his first year at Minnesota. He finished the year with 41 tackles, three tackles for loss, one pass breakup and one forced fumble. He started all 13 games as a junior at weak-side linebacker, finishing third on the team with 75 tackles. He also added 6.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, one interception (returned 30 yards for a touchdown), one pass breakup and three fumble recoveries. He earned Academic All-Big Ten honors that year as well.
During his senior year he logged 11 starts in 13 appearances, finishing third on the team with 92 tackles. He also added 6.5 tackles for loss, a team-leading four sacks, one interception, three pass breakups and one forced fumble. He was named All-Big Ten honorable mention.
Weighed 210 pounds while at Hutchinson, bulking up to 225 his first year at Minnesota. Bulked up to 240 as a junior, but slimmed down thereafter. Known for his work ethic, partially evidenced by the fact that a player that struggled with grades in high school was eventually named an all-conference academic honoree as a junior at Minnesota.
2015 GAMES WATCHED
Note: scroll right to see more stats.
Key: MT – Missed Tackles; KBd – Key Blocked; YAC – Yards After Catch; UC – Uncatchable Pass
|Sep 03||Texas Christian||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||2||0||0||0||0||2||0||N/A|
|Oct 03||at Northwestern||1.5||0||0||2||0||0||1||0||0||0||1||1||4||0||0||0||0||N/A|
|Nov 07||at Ohio State||2.5||0||0||2||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||N/A|
|Nov 14||at Iowa||0||0||1||3||0||0||2||0||0||0||4||4||44||32||0||0||0||N/A|
|Dec 28||vs. Central Michigan||0||0||1||1||0||1||2||1||0||0||1||0||0||0||0||1||0||N/A|
SKILLS: How Good Is He?
Skills are graded on a 10-point scale: 1-pathetic, 2-poor, 3-weak, 4-below average, 5-average, 6-above average, 7-good, 8-very good, 9-excellent, 10-elite
Speed (8.0): Has good top-end speed and accelerates well. Should have little issue running with backs, receivers and tight ends at the next level. Plays fast and does his best work against the run in pursuit. Closes quickly on the ball when he doesn’t have to deal with blockers or traffic.
Strength (5.0): Shows physicality when taking on blocks, albeit still undersized. Will need to bulk up a little more to deal with NFL-sized linemen and blockers, but isn’t often overwhelmed due to lack of strength or toughness. Many of his issues in terms of dealing with bigger players can be improved by refining his technique.
Tackling (6.0): Does a good job wrapping up and doesn’t miss too many tackles. Will occasionally duck his head and not see what he hits, but rarely results in whiffed tackles when he can square up ballcarrier. Most of his misses come because he takes a bad angle or is late reacting to a play, which doesn’t allow him to proper square up. But for the most part, breaks down and does a good job driving through ballcarrier to bring him down. Isn’t overly powerful and might have some issues with bigger backs and tight ends at the next level, but generally does a good job wrapping and holding up a ballcarrier until the cavalry arrives.
Coverage (5.0): Is capable in coverage mostly because of his athleticism, range and speed. Needs to play with better instincts and awareness when working in zone coverage and can too often be a step late reacting to the play in front of him. In man coverage has the tools to get better but due to raw technique and balance, tends to get “grabby” when covering guys tight ends and slot receivers. Might lead to an excessive amount of penalties at the next level until he cleans up his technique. Doesn’t have a ton of experience working in man coverage as most of his coverage assignments in Minnesota’s defense called for zone.
Point of Attack (5.0): Does a decent job taking on blocks at the point of attack, but has a tendency to get engulfed when facing larger offensive linemen. But most of his issues there come due to poor technique and not getting proper leverage rather than because he is physically incapable of holding up there. Shows the ability to stack and shed blockers but can be hesitant too often because he doesn’t immediately recognize the play. Has a tendency to play on his heels for those same reasons, which limits his effectiveness when teams run at him. This too often allows blockers to get effective position against him, preventing Campbell from making the play.
Here is an example of the good things Campbell can do at the point of attack:
Here is an example of the bad:
Instincts (3.0): Is consistently a step or two late when it comes to reacting to plays, as he is usually the last defender in Minnesota’s front seven to read, recognize and diagnose a play. Because of this, he tends to play on his heels too often and it allows blockers to get position against him. Will get caught out of position too often and lose his gap responsibility at times.
Here is an example of him “freelancing” on a run play, completely losing gap integrity on a touchdown run:
Pass Rush (6.0): Is a capable pass-rusher due to his speed and burst, able to get past slower-footed linemen. Shows some rudimentary pass-rush moves, showing bull rush, rip and swim moves to disengage from blocks. Won’t overpower most and when a running back squares him up on the blitz pickup, the offensive player often wins the battle. But there is room to grow based off his burst, length and the beginnings of a decent pass rush.
Click here for more information about my grading system.
Developmental Starter (4.8) – A player right on the cusp of being a starter but may be lacking in at least one key area that limits his potential. If he does become a starter, almost never will become more than a complementary player as opposed to an impact player since he will struggle to compete against quality players at the next level. A solid mid-round pick that should be targeted early on Day 3. Towards the upper end of this tier could sneak into the Top 100 picks.
NFL FORECAST: How Do His Skills Project to the NFL?
Campbell is a good fit as a weak-side linebacker in a 4-3 scheme that also has some potential to play the strong-side given his length and potential as a pass-rusher. But for now, he’s most natural as a flow and chase defender on the weak side. His technique is not quite refined to the level necessary when it comes to setting the edge to be a capable performer on the strong side.
He has the potential to be a capable starter, but he’s going to have to overcome his lack of instincts. This will likely mean he needs to have help in the forms of a simplified defensive scheme or playing alongside a group of smart, talented linebackers that will be able to cover his mistakes somewhat.
If Campbell doesn’t have these circumstances, then his chances of sticking long-term as a starter are going to be lower. Because of the concerns over his instincts, recognition and awareness, he also might be a player that takes the better part of three years before he’s ready to trust as a starter.
The positive is that in the mean time, he should be able to stick on special teams. He was a regular on Minnesota’s punt coverage as a senior and his speed, tackling and physicality should make for an easy fit on special-teams units throughout the NFL right away.
The big question is going to be whether or not he’ll develop to become more in time. If he does, he should be a solid complementary starter that is capable of making some plays to sort of counterbalance the mistakes that he’ll inevitably make.
His slow recognition skills are potentially attributed to his past as a defensive end and the fact that he is more an athlete at this point than a smart, heady playmaker.
For that reason, he may never develop the ideal sort of awareness that a team fully trusts him as a starter. A player that is an easy comparison is someone like Demorrio Williams, who played for the Falcons and Kansas City Chiefs in the past.
Williams played both defensive end and outside linebacker during his days at Nebraska. He managed to start three seasons at weak-side linebacker in Atlanta and was an occasional playmaker, but never a consistent one. He started two seasons with Kansas City before eventually getting surpassed by the late Jovan Belcher, who was an undrafted free agent.
Like Williams, Campbell might wind up being a functional starter, but never one that is firmly entrenched in that role due to his limitations. Williams put together a nine-year pro career, so even if Campbell never quite hits his stride as a starter, he can still have a long, productive NFL career.
There’s little doubt that Campbell should be able to stick beyond his rookie contract as a reserve that can contribute on special teams. It’s mainly a question of whether by the time he reaches his fourth or fifth season, will he have developed enough to be trusted as a starter.
Even though his instincts will probably never be on par with many of his peers, I believe that over time some of those issues should be mitigated as long as he gets experience and comfort playing within a scheme. As a hard-worker, he’ll likely put in the time in the film room and on the practice field that should help endear him to a coaching staff, allowing him to get the opportunities to play and ultimately be successful.
As long as he winds up in a relatively stable situation where he isn’t constantly dealing with frequent coaching and schematic changes, there’s reason to be optimistic that he’ll wind up becoming a capable, albeit unspectacular starter.
FALCONS FORECAST: How Does He Project in Atlanta?
Campbell is expected to play weak-side linebacker in Atlanta and physically he possesses many of the tools one looks for in Dan Quinn’s defensive scheme at that position.
However if it takes more than a year before Campbell starts to hit his stride, he might find himself behind the eight ball. As I wrote before, I expect Campbell and Falcons second-round linebacker Deion Jones to compete for the potentially vacant weak-side linebacker spot in 2017 since I don’t see Jones as a long-term fixture at middle linebacker, the position he is currently projected at.
However Campbell might need two years to get up to speed and if that’s the case, that would give Jones, a higher-round pick, a significant leg up in any potential open roster battle. If Jones takes advantage of that opportunity, that could make it tough for Campbell to crack the starting lineup down the road.
Campbell could be moved to another position, such as potentially playing strong-side linebacker since his length could make him a decent option there. He’d probably need to bulk up a little bit but he could definitely be a capable starter there if need be. Of course the problem facing a move to that spot might be the presence of Vic Beasley, who is likely to take over full-time duties at that spot starting in 2017 if/when the Falcons move on from Brooks Reed.
This means that there’s a above-average likelihood that Campbell spends the bulk of his time in Atlanta as a reserve player, even though he might very well become a player good enough start. He’ll have to deal with the reality that he doesn’t have the pedigree of higher-round picks like Jones and Beasley, meaning the team won’t have as vested an interest in seeing him start especially if it’s at the expense of those others.
Of course the Falcons are likely envisioning a scenario where all three players start simultaneously with Campbell playing the weak side, Jones in the middle and Beasley on the strong side. There is certainly a reality where that comes true and if it doesn’t, then I doubt it’ll be because Campbell isn’t up to the task.
If the Falcons do wind up going with that trio in 2017 or later, then it should be a huge benefit for Campbell. While I have my concerns about Jones’ ability to adapt to playing in the middle, I have few such issues with Campbell’s potential to play on the weak side. Thus there’s a good chance that if Campbell does manage to start the 2017 season on the outside, he will play at a high-enough level to justify keeping him at that spot long-term.
Campbell certainly has the skillset the team is looking for at the weak-side spot. He has the speed to make plays all over the field. While he’s not great in coverage, he won’t be asked to play as much in man coverage as he would in other schemes given the tendency for the Falcons scheme to drop the linebackers in zone. His lack of awareness there won’t be as problematic since he’ll simply be asked to cover the flat quite a bit, making him much of a “see ball, get ball” sort of defender.
Instincts are going to be the biggest obstacle Campbell has to overcome. Fortunately the Falcons scheme is fairly simplified, which should make his poor recognition skills far less of an obstacle in Atlanta than it would be in a lot of other NFL cities. But Campbell still will have to work to get better at that since as things sit today, he is far from trustworthy when it comes to playing his assignments well enough to be considered a starter. But given his reputation as a confident and hard-working player, that shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
If and when Campbell does earn the starting spot, I don’t expect him to be a major impact player for the Falcons. But I do think he can be an effective, complementary starter, especially if the Falcons have a smart and impactful middle linebacker that can be more of a playmaker lining up beside him.
That’s what K.J. Wright has going for him in Seattle with Bobby Wagner at middle linebacker. Wright isn’t the most instinctual player, but is a good athlete with the length and speed to match up in coverage and make plays in space. The Seahawks discovered quickly that Wright wasn’t quite up to snuff instinctually to man the middle linebacker spot as they initially envisioned upon drafting him, but Wright eventually found a home at weak-side linebacker. Playing next to a player the caliber of Wagner means that Wright’s subpar instincts are far less problematic because Wagner is more than capable of making up the difference.
If Campbell was to have a similar relationship with a current or future Falcons middle linebacker, then he should do just fine as a starter. While it wouldn’t be completely fair to project Campbell to become a starter as capable as Wright, who is a relatively rare fourth-round success story at linebacker, yet both players have comparable skill sets.
What Wright has become is an asset on a good to great Seahawks defense, but he’s far from a critical component of it. Campbell has comparable potential when all is said and done.
Campbell’s deficiencies shouldn’t be too problematic as he projects to Atlanta moving forward, and thus I like his potential. There will probably still be many instances where Campbell gets stuck out of position or his slower reactions limit the plays he makes, but he should be far from a liability at any point.
Yet one reason why I’m hesitant to heap too much praise or expectations on Campbell is the reality of being a fourth-round pick. That reality is that he might not get the opportunities that players drafted ahead of him (mainly Jones) will get in the next few years as the Falcons continue to rebuild their linebacker corps in the future.
There is a scenario where if Jones doesn’t take off as a middle linebacker this year, the Falcons re-invest in that position next offseason with a higher-priced free agent or high-round rookie. And in that scenario, the team will have a more vested interest in maximizing Jones’ potential by moving him to weak-side linebacker over someone like Campbell.
Nonetheless Campbell should easily have a long NFL career and possesses the capability to become a solid starter in Atlanta. He also has just as much a chance of being stuck as a reserve for the next four years. It might really boil down to a coin flip on exactly how it goes.
If Campbell doesn’t become a starter in Atlanta, I’m less inclined to believe it will necessarily be due to the fact that Campbell isn’t good enough. Circumstances could easily prevent him some opportunities to reach his maximum potential.
If he has the opportunity to compete for an open starting spot as early as next season, he’s a player that I wouldn’t bet against winning that job outright. And if that happens, he should be well on his way to fulfilling the better destiny as a long-term starter in Atlanta.