When veteran outside linebackers Julius Peppers and Datone Jones departed as free agents this offseason, it became a necessity that Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson re-stock the depth at outside linebacker. Even with having Nick Perry, who re-signed with the Packers after registering 11 sacks last season, standout linebacker Clay Matthews, and second year linebacker Kyler Fackrell, there was still a need at the position, especially if the rumblings of Matthews moving back inside are true. The Packers spent a fourth round pick on linebacker Vince Biegel in this year’s draft, but he underwent foot surgery recently and might miss the start of training camp. Biegel’s injury leaves a hole at the position, but there might be an answer. The key for the Packers at outside linebacker might be Jayrone Elliott.
The Key for the Green Bay Packers at Outside Linebacker May Be Jayrone Elliott
Elliott came to the Packers before the 2014 season as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Toledo. While there, Elliott was a pass rushing defensive end. The 6’3” 255 pound defensive lineman had a very productive senior season for the Rockets, posting 70 tackles, 14 of them for a loss, along with nine sacks. Although Elliott’s numbers were solid, it wasn’t enough for him to be drafted.
Elliott faced tough odds making the Packers roster, not only as an undrafted free agent, but also making the conversion to a 3-4 outside linebacker. Like most rookies, especially undrafted ones, Elliott’s best chance of making the Packers 53-man roster would come via special teams. Elliott quickly stood out on that unit. Not only did Elliott possess great size, he also had uncharacteristic speed for a person of his stature. Although Elliott saw limited time on defense in his rookie season, posting just 14 tackles in 13 games, he made his mark on the Packers special teams.
In 2015, his second season as a professional, Elliott started to show some glimpses of what he could do on defense. He continued to be a mainstay on the Packers special teams, but he also started to make plays on the Packers defense. That season, in 14 games played, Elliott posted 24 tackles, three sacks, one interception, one forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. Although his playing time on defense was limited, he started showing the Packers defensive coaching staff what he was capable of, creating hope that he would be even better in his third season.
Unfortunately for Elliott and the Packers, he experienced a drop off during his third season with the team. Elliott suffered several injuries, a hamstring in preseason action as well as a quad injury during the regular season. Because of the injuries, Elliott was limited to just 11 games, in which he registered just 19 tackles with just a single sack. What was expected as a big season for Elliott, turned out to be a lost one for the young outside linebacker.
The Packers decided to re-sign Elliott this off-season to a one-year deal. Elliott received interest from both the Buffalo Bills and the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he chose to stay with the organization who gave him a chance coming out of Toledo. But the Packers didn’t re-sign Elliott to just be a special teams player. They are expecting more out of him in his fourth season. The opportunity is there for Elliott, but he will need to stay healthy and must show consistent production when he gets time on the Packers defense. With Matthews presumably seeing more time at inside linebacker, there is an opportunity for playing time opposite of Perry, the presumed starter at the other outside linebacker position. Fackrell and Biegel, once he is healthy, are high draft picks, but Elliott is the more explosive athlete. He showed in 2015 he is capable of making plays, something the Packers defense is in dire need of.
With being just on a one-year deal, Elliott will need to show right away that he is capable of making plays. The Packers put an emphasis on players they have invested time in, one of the big reasons they re-signed Elliott. The Packers aren’t just hoping they get production out of Elliott on defense, they are expecting it. It will be up to Elliott to seize the moment and show the Packers he is the player they have envisioned he will be.