Pete Dougherty put his finger on it. Outside linebacker is the most important position on the Packers’ defense. The 2016 draft is as good a defensive draft as we have seen in years. And while most Packers fans are focused on the inside linebacker position. But the work of superstar Clay Matthews will make a difference in this year’s draft. Since Matthews moved inside, the Packers’ defense took a quantum leap forward, especially in the run game. But Mike McCarthy has explicitly stated his desire to get Matthews back out on the edge where he belongs. Matthews’ work inside, however, is about to pay dividends…here’s why.
1. Clay Matthews made the switch
When it comes to playing inside linebacker, Clay Matthews didn’t just pull it off…he nailed it. It is difficult (though not impossible) to move from the outside to the inside because while they are both linebacker positions, there is a significant difference, particularly in how an inside linebacker has to deal with so much traffic. Clay Matthews became a pro bowler inside. This is part of Clay’s growing legacy and one cannot overstate how amazing this guy is. And it is possible that we will be thanking him now and in the future for his leadership and ability to teach both inside and outside on the Packers’ defense.
The success that Clay Matthews had is something that doesn’t just affect the defense on the field, but also had a ripple effect outside the lines. Which leads us to number two.
2. By successfully making the switch, Matthews gave the coaching staff confidence
Imagine being Mike McCarthy and Dom Capers when the idea was posed to move Clay Matthews inside. Then change your shorts and look back on the decision with the benefit of hindsight. Yeah, it worked out pretty well but initially, that had to be one of the most difficult-to-manage decisions the Packers’ staff has made in a long time. It wasn’t choosing to keep a player or not…when you do that the player leaves if you don’t keep him. In this case, the coaching staff had to manage a superstar (though Clay is also a consummate pro) and then teach him a new position. There are many, many pitfalls in such a move and then to do it mid-season makes it extremely difficult.
But kudos to the Packers’ coaching staff and Matthews for making it work and making it work well. While it is great that the Packers are committed to moving Clay back outside, the coaching staff too, learned a lot during that process. Players like Clay Matthews are rare, but the confidence that the Packers’ coaches gained by working with Clay in this way may very well pay dividends in 2016.
3. This progress opens up the draft for the Packers in 2016
Clay Matthews and the confidence of the Packers’ coaching staff will now allow them to think outside the box in a draft that may see top inside linebackers come off the board before the Packers pick at 27. The work that the coaching staff did with Clay Matthews and the success they had means that the Packers have a lot of “slash” players available to them. And by “slash” player, I mean OLB/ILB and ILB/OLB. One has to believe that the Packers will draft heavy on defense in this draft and with linebacker being crucial, don’t be surprised if they end up with more than one. If they don’t get one in the first round, say they pick up Hunter Henry because all their coveted backers are off the board, they can still pick up an excellent prospect and be able to work him into whichever position is needed. Guys like Kentrell Brothers, Scooby Wright or Antonio Morrison will be interesting to watch but each comes with a unique skillset. The Packers should be able to work many of these players either inside or outside and with Julius Peppers’ situation still up in the air, that versatility could be critical.
Ideally, the Packers would get a true inside linebacker who can be an immediate impact player, but the work they did with Clay Matthews may pay dividends.