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What Should We Expect From De'Vondre Campbell in 2016?


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What Should We Expect From De'Vondre Campbell in 2016?

By Charles R. McDonald

@SundayFiasco on Aug 17, 2016

Great things, or a frustrating rookie year?

Going into the 2016 NFL Draft, the Falcons' need for linebacker was clear. Justin Durant was cut after one season with the team and Paul Worrilow is best suited as a backup middle linebacker. The most intriguing selection the team made in the draft was linebacker De'Vondre Campbell from Minnesota in the fourth round.

By looking at Campbell's combine measurements, it's easy to see why Dan Quinn would desperately want this athletic skill set in among the linebackers. He has the size, speed, and length to create favorable matchups in coverage against running backs and tight ends.

What's interesting with Campbell is how he athletically resembles Seattle Seahawks weakside linebacker K.J. Wright, who Dan Quinn used to coach.

Wright has the edge in weight while Campbell has the edge in raw speed, but their height and length are traits that Quinn looks for from the weakside linebacker position. (Note: you can go to the link to the article provided at the end of this post to see the charts comparing Campbell and Wright).

When you turn on the tape, Campbell flashes special burst, speed, and closing ability for a player his size.

In Quinn's Cover 3 defense, the weakside linebacker is primarily designated with middle hook and flat responsibilities, depending on the alignment of the strong safety and the personnel the offense breaks the huddle with. Here's an illustration of what the looks like using the Falcons "base" 4-3 Under front.

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In Campbell's first preseason game against Washington, he looked comfortable sitting in underneath coverage and attacking the receiver after the ball was caught.

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And the next play.

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Through one preseason game, Campbell and fellow rookie Deion Jones appear to have pretty solid chemistry when it comes to attacking outside runs. When the Falcons run their nickel looks without a strongside linebacker, the middle linebacker and weakside linebacker need to be fast and physical when playing the run. Campbell and Jones both displayed that on Thursday setting plays up for each other.

On the first play, Campbell is filling in the gap behind the tight end after Jones compresses the tight end, leaving little room to run.

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In the next example Campbell takes on the outside shoulder of the blocker and Deion Jones flies in to makes a tackle for a minimal gain.

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One preseason game is a small sample size, but Campbell's ability to sustain his position against an offensive guard in the second clip is a step forward for him. While he was at Minnesota, he struggled to anchor versus offensive linemen coming downhill and in space. As a 232 pound off ball linebacker, this isn't going to be his bread and butter anyways.

After Atlanta selected Campbell in the fourth round, ESPN's Vaughn McClure spoke to Minnesota's linebackers coach Mike Sherels who had this to say about Campbell:

The 6-foot-4-inch, 232-pound Campbell has the athleticism, game speed, and length to become a starting-caliber Will linebacker. But he does have the instincts?

Golden Gophers linebackers coach Mike Sherels, who played linebacker at Minnesota himself, provided an answer.

"My response to that is that there are two types of linebackers out there: there's raw, instinctive kids, and then there's the kids you have to really get in there and make sure you're really doing a good job with X, Y and Z in telling them exactly what you expect from them. De'Vondre is that second type of linebacker," Sherels said. "He's not somebody that does have great instincts. He doesn't have bad instincts. He's got average football instincts.

"But what he lacks in instincts he makes up for in want-to in making sure that he knows exactly where he needs to be and the position that he needs to be in in order to get his job done."

When Campbell quickly diagnoses plays, he has the physical ability to be a dangerous weapon attacking the football.

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He's also flashed great ability to navigate through traffic and make plays on the ballcarrier. Sifting through a crowd of bodies and bringing down Ezekiel Elliott isn't an easy feat.

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Like Coach Mike Sherels pointed out, De'Vondre Campbell doesn't possess the most natural football instincts. In the following clip taken from Falcons training camp, Campbell bites hard on the counter action from Tevin Coleman and greatly over-pursues leaving a massive cutback lane into the teeth of the defense.

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As the sea parts, @Teco_Raww explodes through the middle for a huge gain. #FalconsCamp #Falcons

 

Errors involving gap control and gap exchange can be fixed with repetitions and practice time and for a player like Campbell, it's going to take some time before he can truly be a force on the defensive side of the ball.

Now, no one should be surprised at this point if he gets the start week one (even though Sean Weatherspoon was more impressive than him versus Washington). However, expectations need to be tempered. Campbell was a fourth round pick for a reason and your hopes for his immediate success should be pretty low entering the season.

If Campbell and Deion Jones enter the season as the starters or earn the jobs early in the season expect a lot of variance in their play. The Falcons defense has young guys with a lot of potential, but it may take a year or two for those guys to get the experience they need to become consistently effective.

With Campbell, you'll see moments of athletic brilliance and frustrating mental lapses, but for a linebacker core that's being completely rebuilt, this is ok. Let's all hope we see plenty of play recaps like this:

Rookie DeVondre Campbell made an awesome play on a deep ball to Coleman. Broke up sure TD. He may already be best cover LB #Falcons have

 
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What should I expect from him in 2016?

I would just expect him to learn! Soak it in and hopefully the opportunity will present itself in the future to become a great NFL player. If we're counting on rookies being great NFL players especially at multiple positions in 2016 then that in itself ought to tell you where this team truly is in the grand scheme of things. Hopes should be high but expectations? That's a whole other question.

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Fantastic post. Thanks. I think that DQ must feel great about having stable vets and highly talented rooks. It's enough for me if our WLB and MLB GO FROM C- to B-. I think that's what they've accomplished. If this team cuts down on incredibly untimely errors and giveaways-this talent influx is going to raise all boat. Again-fun post.

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After looking at those run plays I see what most OC's will see and exploit during a game planned game. Over pursuit. If either or both of those two plays are bootlegs, it's trouble for the good guys. Brooks Reed commits down into the middle prior to the hand off and could not have held that edge. The two rooks are fast and reactive but that can be used against them and will be with mis- direction until they figure it all out. May be a few games or a few seasons but the raw physical talent is there.

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2 hours ago, slider said:

What should I expect from him in 2016?

I would just expect him to learn! Soak it in and hopefully the opportunity will present itself in the future to become a great NFL player. If we're counting on rookies being great NFL players especially at multiple positions in 2016 then that in itself ought to tell you where this team truly is in the grand scheme of things. Hopes should be high but expectations? That's a whole other question.

I doubt that Campbell will start in the base defense, at least not right away. However, I do expect him to play in the Nickle packages from Day 1 of the regular season. At this juncture, Campbell's pass defense is more developed and NFL-ready than his run defense.

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1 minute ago, theProf said:

I doubt that Campbell will start in the base defense, at least not right away. However, I do expect him to play in the Nickle packages from Day 1 of the regular season. At this juncture, Campbell's pass defense is more developed and NFL-ready than his run defense.

I agree. If his coverage ability transfers to the regular season, it will be far and away better for the entire defense especially the pass rush. You can't sack the QB if he has an easy dump off available and hopefully Campbell's presence will be felt in that aspect. I suspect that teams will try to pass on first down and 2nd and short to take advantage of the slower base D plus the front 4 in base appears fairly stout against the run. The Falcons might find themselves going mostly nickle or at least big nickle after teams get a few games on tape and start exploiting weaknesses.

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5 hours ago, BCurt57 said:

Fantastic post. Thanks. I think that DQ must feel great about having stable vets and highly talented rooks. It's enough for me if our WLB and MLB GO FROM C- to B-. I think that's what they've accomplished. If this team cuts down on incredibly untimely errors and giveaways-this talent influx is going to raise all boat. Again-fun post.

You're welcome. I thought this was one of the better falcoholic articles. Lots of hope being generated in the Falcons rookies and first and second-year players.

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Nice snippets, especially, for those who havent caught any game tape. Kudos to newer poster Slider for pointing out the play action being the weakness. Even the good ones bite on it including Neal. Its nice to have some linebackers that have speed for a change along with an enforcer! Spoon is just icing now, whereas, we were depending on him and War before!

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