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Packers by Position Offseason Preview: Inside Linebackers

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Packers by Position Offseason Preview: Inside Linebackers

Over the course of the next several days Cheesehead TV will have a brief position-by-position offseason preview, taking a look at what's in store for the Green Bay Packers in free agency and the NFL Draft..


It's not as if A.J. Hawk played at an All-Pro level in 2013, but he put together a good, solid year for the Packers, having his best season since at least 2010, maybe better.

Those impact plays that had been missing for so long from Hawk started to appear this past season: a career-high five sacks, an interception and his first forced fumble since 2007. Sure, Pro Bowl caliber linebackers put up even better numbers than that, but the Packers can get by with Hawk considering he always seems to stay injury-free, and he's one of the best leaders on the defensive side of the football.

It's more important the Packers get better play from the spot opposite Hawk after getting subpar production from Brad Jones in 2013.

Of course, injuries didn't help. Jones got off to a good start the first month of the season, but then hamstring and ankle injuries impacted his effectiveness down the stretch.

Jamari Lattimore provided surprisingly solid play when Jones was out of the lineup, but his inexperience showed, too frequently being out of position. He figures to only get better if he can improve upon the mental part of his game.

Two other inside linebackers on the Packers roster had their seasons ended by injuries: Sam Barrington with a pulled hamstring and Rob Francois with a torn Achilles.

Victor Aiyewa was signed late in the seasons when injuries struck but played strictly on special teams.


Long-Range Free Agency Preview

Robert Francois––Francois signed just a one-year contract prior to the 2013 season and he's already scheduled to hit free agency once again.

Prior to his injury, he was one of the Packers' special teams regulars and was a savvy backup as an inside linebacker, but the torn Achilles has put his future in doubt.

Because of injury, Francois doesn't figure to generate any interest on the free agent market, meaning he'll probably return to Green Bay or nowhere, but the Packers aren't prone to bring back injured fringe players, especially after their contracts have expired.

Last year they parted ways with Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith, and they had a whole lot more natural talent than Francois.


Long-Range NFL Draft Preview

The Packers are paying Hawk and Jones like starters, but they're not exactly getting a bang for their buck. They can and should strive to get better production from the position.

Inside linebackers have the ability to make a big impact on the performance of the defense, seeing as they're typically the leading tacklers on the team and around the football more than most other defenders.

A good inside linebacker can be the difference between making a tackle behind the line of scrimmage or six yards downfield.

There's one really good surefire first-round draft pick at the position in this year's draft, Alabama's C.J. Mosley, but it's debatable whether he'll be around by the Packers pick with the 21st overall draft choice.

Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (54) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

MarkinMadison's picture

I think Jones is Jones, and is unlikely to be any better next year. What is the cap hit for cutting him?

Evan's picture

$2 million, I believe. Not prohibitive. But they'd only get like $2 million in savings, so...probably not worth it.

Hank Scorpio's picture

I didn't understand signing him for more than the vet minimum last year. I would have been just as happy if they just parted ways.

I still don't understand the contract.

lmills's picture

Because he had several other teams offering him contracts. If Ted wouldn't have offered him what he did, we would have lost him. I'm not saying he is our linebacker of the future, but we didn't have a good backup plan since Terrell Manning was a bust. It was an unfortunate necessity.

Hank Scorpio's picture

So what if he would have signed elsewhere? He's ok when healthy but he's rarely healthy. Availability is pretty big deal, as we saw this year. You cannot make a single tackle as a gameday inactive.

If he was a stud like Matthews, I would have a bit more patience on the injury front. But he's not.

4thand1's picture

If Mosley is still around when the f-ing Bears pick, they'll take him. TT should trade up and get a real play maker like he did with CM.

Point Packer's picture

I agree with this. We need a real impact player in round 1, not another "Do Nothing" Jones.

Derek in CO's picture

I agree. trade up if necessary to get the draft's best LB or safety, whatever it takes. Might take a 3rd rounder and wheel of cheese, I don't care.

Evan's picture

It would almost definitely take at least a 3rd.

49ers used their 3rd last year to move from 31 to 18.

To get CJ Mosley, it'd probably require moving to the low teens. They could probably stay at 21 and have their pick of safeties.

RC Packer Fan's picture

Yeah, honestly, I would stay at 21 and either pick the BPA at S, TE, ILB or even consider trading back. Pick up an additional 2nd or 3rd round pick.

The talent in this draft is very deep. This is the year to get an additional pick in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th rounds because they will still be able to find starters.

Bearmeat's picture

Right on RC. TE/NT is where we need to go in round 1. Mosley would cost too much to get - and none of the safeties are worth it in round 1..

Icebowler's picture

The Bears drafted two high round LB's last year. They will have to go DL or DB this year.

KennyPayne's picture

So Hawk is rated the 48th best inside linebacker (out of 55) in the NFL by ProFootballfocus, forced his first (and only) fumble in 6 seasons (when he got away with a blatant face-mask on Adrian Peterson), and intercepted a single pass and he is just fine at ILB?

Sorry, he is now >30, has never been fast, his "best" years are behind him, and he is still scheduled to make more than $5,000,000 in 2014.

Jones is not any good, but to pretend Hawk is not an overpaid liability is to deny reality in my view.

Jamie's picture

The only thing you've proven by stating Hawk was ranked by PFF as 48 out of 55 ILBs, is that PFF is severely flawed.

Not that most already didn't know that.

Point Packer's picture

PFF isn't perfect, but its a good indicator of where players are compared to others in the league at their position.

I've always been a defender of Hawk. Though he has limitations, I believe his leadership is under-rated and that he plays a critical role as on-field director.

However, at 30 years old and given his ceiling for production, one needs to wonder if he's worth dumping 5 million into. Perhaps this next year given the lack of depth at ILB, but beyond that? Not sure.

That being said, Hawk played his ass off this year.

Brad Jones is just not a starting caliber ILB.

Hank Scorpio's picture

I thought I read that Lattimore was ranked significantly higher than Hawk in PFF's rankings. So I don't accept the premise that their rankings are a good indicator of anything except that as guys get more opportunities, their ranking drops.

The eye test tells me Hawk is the most valuable ILB on the Packers. That's a really low bar to clear, I'll grant you. I'd still like him replaced. But he does one very important thing much better than Brad Jones...he makes himself available for the gameday active list. And Lattimore plays like a college DL learning how to play ILB.

marcopo's picture

The problem isn't Jones, per se. But you need a much more athletic ILB teamed with Hawk. Both are relatively slow, but Hawk adds the other qualities.

Shawn's picture

The problem with PFF, or any other grading system, is that they fail to take into account things that DO affect performance. They even admit this.

They make no adjustment for quality of play of your opponent's oline or your own dline when looking at LBs.

ArodMoney's picture

Yes, because the Packers run defense was sooo good when he was in.

Even if you don't like PFF's grades, Hawk had the third lowest run stop percentage(stop being a tackle that is deemed a failure for the offense) among middle linebackers. Nothing to do with grades.

Sure he probably had his best year in coverage, but if he was actually a good ILB their run D wouldn't have been the sieve that it was the second half of the year.

Point Packer's picture

Don't get me wrong, Hawk got his ass rocked pretty consistently in the run game.

The bar is pretty low here, my friend.

ArodMoney's picture

Sadly yes. When people are touting 1 pick and 1 forced fumble as an improvement you know something is wrong.

I wouldn't be so quick to write off Brad Jones though. He was playing fine until his injuries and never looked the same when he came back. There were times he looked visibly hobbled on the field(I think the Dallas game). I would bet he starts week 1 next season.

WKUPackFan's picture

"run stop percentage (stop being a tackle that is deemed a failure for the offense) [has] nothing to do with grades". That is an incorrect statement and goes to the heart of the problem with PFF. First, it's a grade, or part of a grade, by PFF's own definition.

Second, and more importantly, adherence to PFF's parameters is totally dependent on the quality and expertise of their observers. To my knowledge the qualifications of their observers has never been revealed. Also, if you read PFF's explanation of their methods (and they should commended for the lengthy explanation on the site) it is admitted that some serious assumptions are made that call into question the product's accuracy. In addition, if PFF's stated review times are to believed, it seems impossible that every player on every play could be given any more than a cursory review. This doesn't even take into account the fact that the reviewer most likely has no idea of a particular player's assignment on any given play.

Data generated from subjective analysis with questionable parameters always has reliability issues.

ArodMoney's picture

Um their definition of stop is literally just if the player made a tackle for the following:
Less than 40% of distance remaining on 1st down.
Less than 50% on 2nd down.
Less than 100% on 3rd or 4th down.

I'm not sure how you are seeing grading involved there. You are basically calling tackles a grade.

starr57's picture

So you tell me KennyPayne, who would have played the 1000+ plays if Hawk would have been gone last year?
What guarantee ANY rookie lbr is going to be able to step in and take over the play calling on the D, making sure others know their assignments, all the while, for the most part, playing alongside a bunch of rookies and backup because once again in 2013 AJ Hawk was THE ONLY starter who played every game.
I've been listening to this crap for years about Hawk, yet every year, who do The Packers turn to because the so called "playmakers" the organization bring in either can't stay healthy, or just can't perform.
Don't care about some damn rating system, THERE'S A REASON AJ HAWK IS STILL IN GREENBAY, you geniuses figure it out!!!!

4thand1's picture

Agreed. Good payers need good players around them too.

WKUPackFan's picture

Agree 100%

4thand1's picture

If the Packers would have lost to Da Bears, they would be picking in the top 15. Then again they only lost by 3 to SF. We'll all be thinking what if had they won that game. Especially if SF wins the SB.

Icebowler's picture

I'm with ya on the SF thing, but I live in NW IN (Bears Country) and losing to them twice in one season is just not acceptable, draft position be dammed.

4thand1's picture

Went over a bunch of mock draft scenarios and CJ Mosley is on the board at 21. Couple of real good TE's too. I say take Mosley. FA 1st though.

Phatgzus's picture

If he's there, absolutely; I just don't think he will be (unless he gets hurt or has an awful combine) as he is far and away the most accomplished and pro-ready ILB in the draft.

Point Packer's picture

At this point, mock drafts are about as good at predicting what teams take whom as my stool is at predicting the next Megabucks numbers.

4thand1's picture

My mom won 19 mil in mega bucks last year.

The TKstinator's picture

Would that stool be loose by any chance?

Icebowler's picture

Thanks for the laugh. You're right on!

ben's picture

hawk doesn't beat blocks, he eats them up into the turf until his helmet pops off

and you can count on that week in and week out, very reliable

Lou's picture

Hawk improved but at his age looking past 2014 would be a mistake. With Bishop next to him to stop the run and rush up the middle he was fine as a starter, chances are he will be a coach at some point after his playing days are done. Jones just does not have the typical body for an ILB, with his long legs he has trouble anchoring. I believe Barrington will be given every chance to claim one of the starter spots in 2014 which if drafting well would have been Manning. Manning and McMillian were dispatched so quickly which is a new norm for Thompson (see D.J. Williams & Pat Lee), his draftees prior to this year always got a minimum 3 years to show. Lattimore appears to be tagged as a sub by Ted, he was exceptional in the Brown's game but his time on the field afterwards was less and his production fell because of it.

cLowNEY42's picture

How on earth did this team get to the point where every single position group on the defense sucks ass? I mean - not even average... just plain horrible.

This defense is beyond fixing.
Screw it.
Draft all offensive players and just try to score 56 every game.

Uncle Louie's picture

Draft Development (new name for TV show). One trick ponie Ted can't keep up with the big boys who are filling holes with good experienced players. He's paying big money for average at best play from his own free agents. Hawk, Burnett, Jones and was willing to give Greg Jennings 10 mil per year. Let them go Ted,they are fully developed.

RC Packer Fan's picture

ILB's IMO is one of the top 3 needs on the team.

Everyone wants to hate on Hawk. But the truth is he is the leader of the defense. He is the guy getting the calls in and gets them in the right defense.

He is not a Pro Bowl-HOF type of player. But he is a player that can be counted on to be there every week. He is a good player, not great...
What Hawk needs is a better player next to him. IF they could add a CJ Mosley that would be great. I honestly am expecting Mosley to be long gone before they pick at 21.
So we probably would be looking at guys like Borland, Skov in the 2nd round.

A guy that I am becoming more intrigued with is Ryan Shazier. He should be available at 21. He is a bit light, but he could probably gain some weight. He has very good speed which is what they really need.

In house, I still like Lattimore. He just needs to be more disciplined in his assignments. I also like Barrington. I think he could become a good player, but needs time to develop.

Stroh's picture

Borland and Skov would be more of Hawk. They don't have the athleticism to become a playmaker. Either way neither is worth a 2nd IMO. I would be looking at someone like Christian Jones FSU. He's got the athletic ability that is lacking in Borland and Skov. He has the potential to become a much better playmaker. The size and length to stay w/ TE in coverage and in pass rush. Borland and Skov are too much like Hawk. We need someone w/ the athletic ability to make plays, not another LB to take up blockers. Jones is graded as a late 2nd/3rd like both Borland and Skov.

cLowNEY42's picture

I agree with all of this.

Jones gets picked in my current dream mock.

cLowNEY42's picture

1 FS Pryor Louisville
2 SS Bucannon Washington State
3 ILB Jones Florida State
4 TE Fiedorowicz Iowa
5 OLB Attaochu Georgia Tech
6 WR Herron Wyoming
7 DT Ellis Louisiana Tech
or CB Jean-Baptiste Nebraska

RC Packer Fan's picture

That's not bad...

I think Ellis will go higher then that though. I think he will be a 3-5th round pick.

And with compensation picks and additional picks TT will manage to get, i would say add 3 more picks.
4th round (Greg Jennings comp)- OL
6th round (tt moving around)- WR
7th round (Eric Walden comp)- DE

RC Packer Fan's picture

Yeah, with Skov and Borland I really meant between the 2nd and 3rd round area... Basically just meant farther down the draft.

I agree they need more speed. The thing that I love about Borland is his instincts. If you watch Badger football, he is always by the ball. He has a very high football IQ. Is he the fastest guy, no, is he going to be a great LB, I have no idea.
My comparison for Borland is to Zach Thomas. Only problem with that comparison is the fact that Thomas has been out of the NFL for what 15 years?

I like Borland alot, but i do agree with you that he is closer to Hawk then he is a guy like Patrick Willis.

The guy i'm still saying keep an eye on is Ryan Shazier. Although light, he has the speed we need next to Hawk.

Bert's picture

Hawk and Jones are just OK. Not bad but just OK. They're better than the late round picks and UDFAs that have been brought in to compete that last 4-5 years. Nice to have an impact ILB but as long as we depend on the 5-7 round draft picks and UDFAs it probably won't happen.

Derek in CO's picture

Just found some video of Ryan Shazier. I thought he looked incredibly fast and every tackle he made, the guy went backwards.

RC Packer Fan's picture

I like him a lot actually.. Just a little light for the middle. But if he could add some lbs without losing speed and agility, I think he would be worth the pick.

We need more speed at LB. He would provide it and he also is a very good tackler. Big hitter as well...

He is a guy worth watching in the first round.

Stroh's picture

Christian Jones is the guy you want. FSU 6'3 listed same wt as Mosley. He runs really well too. I agree I think Shazier to too small for ILB also and he doesn't look to have the frame to get a lot bigger. If he could get to upper 230's and keep the speed and playmaking that would be great. Jones tho has good size already and at 6'3 could stand to gain a few more lbs. He could be a terror at 6'3 240.

I would want
Mosley 1st rd
Christian Jones top 3rd.
Attaochu, Ga Tech late 3rd.

Derek in CO's picture

Imagine Chris Borland as a late rounder. He would be a special teams animal. He's short, but a missile of a hitter and very smart player. Has good "motor"

RC Packer Fan's picture

I don't think Borland will go lower then the 4th round. Just from what I have heard/seen so far. Next week at the Senior Bowl will be a huge week for him.

RC Packer Fan's picture

Yeah, Jones might not be a bad option. Probably a 2nd round player.

I am going to be interested in seeing what Shazier weighs in at the combine. If he is 220 or less then no way. But I could see him beeing around 225 or so. (i haven't heard what his weight is).

I think by training camp he could be in the 230-235 range which is light, but would be big enough.

We really need someone more athletic and with more speed next to Hawk.

Hawk honestly is a good player to have next to a rookie to show him how to play and make sure he is in the right spot.

cLowNEY42's picture

While a bit shorter, Shazier reminds me of Ogletree.
Good player, just not sure where he would fit in this defense.

The TKstinator's picture

I'd give serious consideration to BPA:
Player from

Mosley, Clinton-Dix...

Turned out pretty well last time.

GrnMachine's picture

No one likes Lou Nix III to save money on Raji/Pickett(maybe) and put another big body on the d-line which we sorely need?? And I'll take either Pryor or #18 from USC @ safety. Either way, the 1st four picks should be defensive picks.

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"A school without football is in danger of deteriorating into a medieval study hall. "
"I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious."
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