With Duke Riley joining the team, it was logical to wonder what might happen to De’Vondre Campbell, who manned the weak side quite a bit last year. Now the possibility of a move to the strong side has turned from idle chatter to the expected outcome, with Vaughn McClure becoming the latest (and perhaps most reliable source) to note that Campbell will likely make the move.
This is good news for both the Falcons and Campbell, and in many ways the expected outcome. Last year’s fourth rounder was never in real danger of being benched, not after an impressive rookie season that saw him draw a significant number of starts and play both above his draft slot and expectations. At the same time, Riley just makes logical sense as the weak side starter in the next season or two, which meant that Campbell was not going to continue there forever.
What does this mean for Campbell? For starters, he’ll be asked to cover tight ends more frequently, and he’ll be seeing more tight ends coming at him as blockers on running plays. While Riley will be able to use his unreal speed from the weak side, Campbell should be exposed to more contact and more opportunities to hit. Given that he’s easily the biggest and arguably the most physical linebacker Atlanta has, he’ll probably relish that opportunity. His coverage ability was not awful in 2016, but it’s going to need to improve as he takes on this role. Aside from the predictable struggles that second year players face, though, I don’t see any particular reason he can’t take the job and run with it.
If Campbell can thrive in this role and Riley comes on quickly, the Falcons could have one of the youngest, deadliest trios of starting linebackers in the entire NFL. If the defense is going to take the major step forward that we’ve all been salivating for, Campbell’s going to play a major role in that by necessity.