Buffalo Bills fans understand that mock drafts are thought exercises. Very rarely are they intended to be predictive before the week of the actual NFL Draft is upon us, and mock drafts before free agency are especially volatile. They are intended not just to generate clicks, but individual reactions to a multitude of different possibilities.
Mock drafts are also much better after free agency has slowed down. Prior to contracts being signed and trades being made, mock drafts can sometimes be exercises in fans yelling about which needs are more important using only their team’s first-round selection as ammunition. Thought exercises after needs have been partially or fully addressed can be of narrower focus.
Chris Trapasso from CBS Sports released a mock draft on Wednesday, March 29 that seems to follow a newly found trend for the Bills at pick number 27:
Jack Campbell LB IOWA • SR • 6’5” / 249 LBS
PROJECTED TEAM Buffalo
PROSPECT RNK 135th
POSITION RNK 6th
Campbell is Tremaine Edmunds sized — with shorter arms — but better instincts. His size and awesome coverage abilities make him an intriguing prospect for the Bills.
This article is titled “mock mocking or mock marveling” for a reason. It’s about the gut and initial reaction that I have to the player being selected for the Bills in the selected mock draft, and in this case, the coin lands on “mocking.”
Campbell has excellent overall size for the position and tested well athletically at the combine. With linebacker Tremaine Edmunds leaving in free agency to sign a four-year, $72 million contract with the Chicago Bears, the Jack Campbell picks to the Bills have become commonplace in mock drafts. But it’s not just the loss that allows analysts to make the connection. Head coach Sean McDermott has previously gone on record as saying he has fondness for football players from Iowa because of the culture he believes is present in that college program. This started as a talking point around Bills safety Micah Hyde, but came around again to public consciousness when the Bills selected defensive end A.J. Epenesa in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Tall, athletic middle linebacker from a beloved college program at a position of perceived need in a defense known as being linebacker-centric? You can see why the connections are made now that other needs have been lessened for Buffalo via free agency.
So why on earth would I classify this pick at 27 as mocking? First off, I backed myself into a corner by only allowing a binary when in reality, I’d shrug my shoulders at the announcement of Jack Campbell as the pick for the Bills in the first round and say something to the effect of “I’m fine with it.” Secondly and to elaborate further, I don’t understand the team-building aspect to the pick. The organization traded up to get Tremaine Edmunds in 2018, sang his praises for years as he played almost every snap with a “C” on his chest, and watched as he accumulated praise across the league in the form of both official honors and opposing coaches’ comments. They then decided to let him walk after his fifth-year option to a contract in Chicago that didn’t top the contract given to former Chicago (and now Baltimore) linebacker Roquan Smith in terms of average annual value.
And after that, the organization decides to draft his replacement in Round 1?
If they valued the position that highly, why wouldn’t they have simply paid Tremaine Edmunds? If they don’t value the position highly enough to pay Edmunds the deal he got from Chicago, why would they then invest their most valuable draft pick in the position to replace him?
Perhaps they’d feel like Campbell would be an upgrade from Edmunds and if that’s the case, that’s a very small window in which to thread the needle. Rarely has anyone discussed Tremaine Edmunds as being a top-three linebacker in the NFL, but he was a good player who will be missed by this defense. That’s particularly true in the passing game, where opponents may find more success over the middle than they have for the last few years.
Maybe the team simply didn’t want to have two linebackers on meaningful market contracts and having already committed to Matt Milano, they would rather have a cheaper alternative in the middle rather than Edmunds. But if the position is valuable enough, investing meaningful money in two of them would be a logical move.
While the team-building aspect of the pick would continue to confound me, Jack Campbell is a player I believe could step right in and play in the NFL. Iowa’s defense in built largely upon preventing big plays from opposing offenses and Campbell has been a meaningful part of that during his time there. His instincts in zone coverage in particular stand out, like on this play against C.J. Stroud, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and the Ohio State offense in 2021:
Jack Campbell making plays that won't show up on the stat sheet.— EJHolt_NFLDraft (@EJunkie215) March 22, 2023
Awareness and anticipation forces CJ Stroud to check down from the read he wanted. pic.twitter.com/ILuFugtH8S
In addition, Campbell possesses a trait Edmunds was long criticized for lacking: the ability to shed blockers:
The trait you see with Jack Campbell and not many others in this LB class....pure stack and shed ability. He's got the necessary play strength to shed an OG and meet the ball carrier in the hole. pic.twitter.com/1mfQMx5osr— EJHolt_NFLDraft (@EJunkie215) March 22, 2023
I was surprised by the athleticism numbers for Jack Campbell when he blew up this year’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. He showed perfectly solid movement abilities on tape, but Campbell registered a 9.98 RAS score, which compares favorably to players like T.J. Watt and Leighton Vander Esch:
So, obviously it was a good day from Jack Campbell. Top tier #RAS regardless of how he benches or how that final split comes out. pic.twitter.com/krTDH6KFg3— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 3, 2023
One item of note is that Campbell’s arms are not as long as his height would make you assume. While being in the 96th percentile for height at the position, Campbell’s arms are 31 7/8” long, which is in the 34th percentile. So the shedding ability shows on tape, but the length to contest balls in the passing game is an item to note.
So Campbell is a good player who plays a position that would make me raise my eyebrows if selected in Round 1 for the Bills. Much like a pick of running back early, I can separate my affinity for a player with my concern about the logical team-building aspect of the pick.
...and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m Bruce Nolan with Buffalo Rumblings. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @BruceExclusive and look for new episodes of “The Bruce Exclusive” every Thursday on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network!