A Career Defining Year Ahead for Isaiah McDuffie

With a new defense in a contract year, can McDuffie snatch a starting job?

When you look at the Green Bay Packers 2021 draft, honestly, it's fairly forgettable. Cornerback Eric Stokes has had an injury-filled career so far, Josh Myers has been questionably decent, Royce Newman has been shaky, TJ Slaton has been alright, but Amari Rodgers, Shemar Jean-Charles, Cole Van Lanen, and Kylin Hill aren't even on the team anymore. There's one pick from that draft class that's seen a lot of improvement as of late and could be poised to make a big impact in 2024. That is Linebacker, Isaiah McDuffie.

McDuffie has been a bit of an afterthought up until this past season. Admittedly, I had to look it up to make sure he was a sixth-round draft choice in 2021 and not an undrafted free agent. In his rookie season, he saw the field in 13 games where he only logged snaps on special teams. In 2022, he finally got in on defensive snaps logging 17% of the snaps, and in 2023 he saw his snaps drastically increase as he saw action for 48% of all defensive snaps. He saw his role increase and so did the stats as he finished second on the team to only Quay Walker with 86 tackles. The reason for the increase in his role on the defense was mainly due to injuries to DeVondre Campbell and Quay Walker during the season. But McDuffie certainly rose to the occasion and made plenty of big plays on defense to show he belonged there. And with the departure of DeVondre Campbell this offseason, it certainly looks like McDuffie will have an opportunity to prove he can be a starter. 

So, he's a shoo-in, right?

Not so fast. Isaiah McDuffie certainly has a lot of positives going in his direction for 2024. He's coming off a season where he was second on the roster in tackles. Jeff Hafley, Campbell's coach at Boston College during his final year that earned him a draft spot is now the defensive coordinator of the Packers. And also Anthony Campanile is now a linebacker's coach and he was considered one of the best available when the Packers hired him. But that could all end up meaningless for Isaiah McDuffie if the Packers decide to invest high draft capital in the linebacker position. 

In many mock drafts, I see Linebacker Edgerrin Cooper going to the Packers in the second round. The athletic 'backer out of Texas A&M could be a great pairing with Quay Walker. He's very responsive making quick decisions as he sees the play unravel and has elite speed to catch the ball carrier before any progress is made on the play. If a guy like Cooper is drafted, unfortunately for Isaiah McDuffie, I think he might be an odd man out and end up just remaining in a backup role to start.

There is, of course, the off-chance Brian Gutekunst brings in another free agent. Guys like Zach Cunningham and Shaquille Leonard could still be interesting names in free agency and could also help Quay Walker along, but I just don't see it right now. 

How to get it done

If you've seen the movie "Draft Day" with Kevin Costner, you might remember many situations and quotes, but one that is sticking out to me right now is the situation of the current Browns Quarterback in the movie, Brian Drew being upset that the Browns could be taking QB Bo Callahan with the first pick in the draft. Therefore sealing his fate on the team despite all the improvement he'd previously shown. In a way, I see this being Isaiah McDuffie's situation heading into the draft. He's Brian Drew right now. He's shown big improvement the last year, enough that he could be ready for a starting job. But a guy like Edgerrin Cooper, or any Linebacker drafted in rounds 1-3 could be McDuffie's version of Bo Callahan. 

A high draft investment is easily going to beat out a sixth-rounder from three years ago provided they show an ability to play. 

Because of this, McDuffie will have to prove his worth once again. I could easily see the Packers taking a linebacker with one of their five picks on day one or two. 

Despite this fact, Isaiah McDuffie could still be one of the top linebackers on this squad. In 2023, he showed an ability to recognize where a play was going quickly and shoot the gap blowing up the play at the line of scrimmage or even in the backfield. As I wrote game recaps last season I can't tell you how many times I said to myself, "There's McDuffie with another big play." Even if he didn't get the tackle putting him on the stat sheet, he was very disruptive in the running game. 

 He needs to continue this in the passing game as well though. Last year, with the defense in an obvious passing situation, McDuffie would find himself on the sidelines. Improvement is needed in pass coverage and rush. 

Even though an earlier drafted rookie challenger could prove difficult to overcome, I think if Isaiah McDuffie can continue to get on the field for running plays and be as disruptive as he was last season, he could still see that second contract from the Packers. But to take his game to the next level, and perhaps earn that bigger-than-a-one-year deal, McDuffie needs to remove himself from being a one-dimensional linebacker, get better in the passing game, and show he belongs.

 

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Greg Meinholz is a lifelong devoted Packer fan. A contributor to CheeseheadTV as well as PackersTalk. Follow him on Twitter @gmeinholz for Packers commentary, random humor, beer endorsements, and occasional Star Wars and Marvel ramblings.

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Comments (42)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
PackEyedOptimist's picture

March 31, 2024 at 06:10 am

I completely agree Greg! I've had the same thoughts all off-season.
I do think we'll draft a couple of LBs, and that will put pressure on McDuffie, but his DC is going to decide who starts, and Isaiah has played very well for two years now. He has been a forgotten man by most fans, but I'm sure his coaches see his value. A rookie will have to really do well to be able to "wear the green spot" ahead of McDuffie.

I think even a second-round draft choice LB will have to prove he's better than McDuffie in order to win the starting spot. If I.M. starts the season, and plays well, he just MIGHT hold onto that starting role all year.

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golfpacker1's picture

March 31, 2024 at 10:23 am

Competition, Competition, Competition Is Good, Good, Good.

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stockholder's picture

March 31, 2024 at 07:01 am

If we're looking for a couple of LBs - No.
The scouting report of Slow to know,
and getting knocked off with blocks is correct.
Do you want a Plug and play or one that covers.
Campbell lost his speed after being a MVP.
I'm ready for a LB that can cover a TE.
Not a WR. And can fly to the ball.

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LambeauPlain's picture

March 31, 2024 at 07:12 am

McDuffie showed upside last season...if it continues he will be on the field at Mike, Will, or Sam. Whether he stays on the field in the nickel with Walker depends who is drafted, or a FA...and don't count out Wilson.

The LB group is going to see very different duty under Hafley and Campanile vs more off ball, prevent Barry Ball. More attacking the ball and pressuring the QB is on the menu.

McDuffie could thrive in this pressure defense.

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NickPerry's picture

March 31, 2024 at 07:37 am

"The LB group is going to see very different duty under Hafley and Campanile vs more off ball, prevent Barry Ball. More attacking the ball and pressuring the QB is on the menu."

YES SIR!

I'm curious if Hafley and Campanile will be coaching from a coaches box or the sidelines. Either way the aggressive style is going to be really fun to watch.

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SicSemperTyrannis's picture

March 31, 2024 at 08:35 am

Aggressive style plus drafting football players complete with instincts and football IQ and not just RAS athletes would indeed be exciting to watch! That sounds like a winning recipe ...

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SicSemperTyrannis's picture

March 31, 2024 at 08:33 am

Yes, having 3 LBs on the field changes everything, even if it's only some 20% of defensive snaps. Competition on the roster is only good!

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NickPerry's picture

March 31, 2024 at 07:27 am

I Like McDuffie myself... He was very disruptive in the running game last season and seemed to get better with each passing game. Granted, his pass defense wasn't the best but in Joe Barry's defense how much of that is on McDuffie and how much was on the Barry Defense?

I think they'll have to use pick #41 to get Cooper or Wilson, the kid from NC State. Or they wait and take a guy like Gray or Trottier later in the 3rd or 4th round. I've said this a few times already. My hope is Gutey is able to draft an O-Lineman, ILB, Safety, CB, and a D-Lineman/Pass Rusher in those first 5 picks. The Packers have Brooks, Wooden, and Wyatt from the previous 2 drafts so maybe interior O-Lineman might be better use of those first 5 selections.

Personally I like Wooden and I REALLY like Brooks. I think we see a improved Wyatt as well this year just because IMO the Packers improved their defensive coaching staff...A LOT, and I think Jeff Hafley's scheme is going to be a great fit for all 3 of those players.

The Packers have 11 picks in this upcoming draft and we haven't even considered the UDFA they sign who always seems to make the team. It's going to be really interesting. Does he really NEED 11 picks? Maybe he packages up some picks to move up even more than once or maybe he trades a pick or two for a player on another roster. No matter what we'll find out in less than a month.

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SicSemperTyrannis's picture

March 31, 2024 at 08:48 am

Nick, "The Packers have Brooks, Wooden, and Wyatt from the previous 2 drafts so maybe interior O-Lineman might be better use of those first 5 selections."

This is what I'm thinking. We'll see how Gutey sees our depth players at OT vs D line. If they like any of Mt Caleb Telfort or Tenuta but don't like #99 J Ford? But trying to read the draft like tea leaves may not tell us that much about their current evaluation, just BPA?

I'm hoping all these guys are putting in the work now and step up big time by TC.

I also think that reducing the sheer number of picks in the late rounds to increase quality at the few remaining positions of need is not off the table. After the last draft I was hoping that would be the position we're in this draft.3 OL and 4 DBs seem necessary. A quality ILB who can also cover. Make that two, with complementary strengths?

Some think Gutey should trade back to get more than 11 picks; that idea baffles me but I can see significant trading. #25 could bring anything from ringers on the O line, to no one we can't get later. How this actually falls will be interesting ...

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golfpacker1's picture

March 31, 2024 at 10:37 am

SIC, a trade back from #25 would give GB another premium pick in the first 3 rounds and probably another in the still talent rich 4th or 5th rounds. Moving back just lines us up to get a top interior O-lineman in the 2nd. It doesn't hurt us at all.

Our picks in the 4th and 5th, where a bunch of good players will be picked, come at the back of each round. Also, the 6th and 7th round picks don't hold much trade up value. They are valuable for trading for NFL veterans who could help us though. Maybe Chad Muma-LB-Jaguars for a 7th rounder.

Those late picks will let us take shots at good players who fell, or maybe to lock up a potential UFDA we would love to have. Unless Fautanu fell, or JPJ was still on the board, I would trade back from #25 to no later than #42 and grab the extra picks.

I also might make a small move back from #91 for an extra 4th or 5th. Make all the picks and whoever make the team is an upgrade.

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Bearmeat's picture

April 01, 2024 at 06:31 am

I would prefer DeJean at 25, putting him at safety. Then Cooper at 41. Then an OL/RB etc.. I like what we’ve seen from Walker and Rhyan. But Myers needs to be pushed, and we need depth.

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WD's picture

March 31, 2024 at 07:45 am

Even with both Quay and Campbell both starting our LBs were average at best. Running defense was abysmal. McDuffie has shown he can compete but I don't see him starting. As far as the draft many feel Payton Wilson is the best LB in the draft. He certainly has the most potential upside. He also has the most versatility as he has also been used as an Edge rusher. At 6'4 and 4.43 speed he will render any opposing TE useless. Moreover the thought of him on the edge on obvious passing plays would send chills up opposing QBs who would try to run for a first down. . Here is my ideal and realistic draft. 25 C De jean CB/ Safety, 41 Payton Wilson ILB/Edge, 58 C.Beebe OL, 88 Blake Corum RB, 91 T Bartolini IOL, 126 Junior Colson ILB, 167 Joe Milton QB, 203 J. Karty Kicker

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SicSemperTyrannis's picture

March 31, 2024 at 08:51 am

You're expecting the best LB in the draft to be available at #41 overall, and consider that reasonable?

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WD's picture

March 31, 2024 at 09:40 am

Most mocks have E Cooper as the best ILB and even he goes early the second. So,I would be happy to take either one. I think Cooper goes in the first. So, yes I think it is reasonable Wilson will fall because of a medical flag related to previous injuries. Allegedly he has made a full recovery,

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stockholder's picture

March 31, 2024 at 11:18 am

The only site that has Wilson 1st rd is PFF.
Everyone else is holding him
back , because of past injuries.

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golfpacker1's picture

March 31, 2024 at 01:59 pm

The 2nd best LB in the draft, Junior Colson, won't be available @ #58, let alone #126. And Beebe will be gone by #58 too. I am sorry WD but I hope we don't settle for your realistic draft. That would be disappointing.

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stockholder's picture

March 31, 2024 at 05:51 pm

If you trust in Gute- You shouldn't be disappointed.
As for me- It's Easter. Have a nice day.

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relleum61's picture

March 31, 2024 at 08:02 am

Here's hoping McDuffie can mirror the career of a previous 6th round draft pick, one Desmond Bishop. While it is a different defense, the similarities are there!

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Bitternotsour's picture

March 31, 2024 at 08:26 am

I'm usually a defender of Dom Capers, but his reticence in paying Des Bishop was a mystery. Every time Bishop stepped on the field he made plus plays. It took Dom much longer than the fan base to recognize his talent.

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LambeauPlain's picture

March 31, 2024 at 09:21 am

I could never understand Bishop being ignored so longs. However, after the first year of Dom, I was not a fan of his jail break substitutions designed to confuse his opponent, that mostly confused his own guys. And every team in the NFL knew his down and distance tendencies.

I believe defense during his tenure under McCarthy kept the Packers from a few Super Bowls.

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Tundraboy's picture

March 31, 2024 at 07:48 pm

Dom was an idiot.

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TKWorldWide's picture

March 31, 2024 at 08:26 am

1. I would go to McDuffie’s birthday party.
2. On the rare occasions they are in base, I’d expect 58 to be one of the 3 LB’s.
3. On the much more numerous nickel snaps, I’d expect 7 and a day 2 pick to be the linebackers.

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SicSemperTyrannis's picture

March 31, 2024 at 08:53 am

You say it's your birthday?

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TKWorldWide's picture

March 31, 2024 at 08:57 am

It’s my birthday too, yeah!

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Coldworld's picture

March 31, 2024 at 09:33 am

I know it’s the dead season, but it’s really too early to judge what this team will look like in May let alone September. The transactions to date really only mean we’ve a new lead RB, that Nixon will be in the team and that we have a lead S. The rest are competition who may or may not win out.

These are conversations that we can start having post draft when there will be a minimum of 5 early picks to add to the roster even if we jump about or 6 as currently scheduled as well as more players I’d expect to be in the mix from mid rounds and perhaps even after that.

Unlike most years, we really don’t know what the priorities are in terms of player types/attributes on the defensive side, which makes it harder to know how much they like players already here and potentially see more or less talent and fit in some than we do. All we know is that there are obvious numerical holes, some at “starter” and others behind supposed ones.

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Bitternotsour's picture

March 31, 2024 at 09:39 am

And we can just hope that the HC and the D-coordinator can do something that makes the whole better than the sum of it's parts. Because even teams with talent advantages lose.

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PearlyBakerBest's picture

March 31, 2024 at 06:19 pm

You could always fuck off for a couple months instead of whinging about the dead season.

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golfpacker1's picture

March 31, 2024 at 06:58 pm

What a tool you are Pearly, you can't even spell whining correctly. Internet tough guy.

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Bitternotsour's picture

April 01, 2024 at 12:36 pm

Whingeing is a word. It's English slang for bitching. More common on soccer boards.

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CoachJV's picture

March 31, 2024 at 10:27 am

You speak like there's only going to be 2 LB's on the field... Hafley's D will have 3 in Base. Which leaves plenty of room for a high draft pick. I really don't see how a draft pick and Quay Walker leave McDuffy as the odd man out. Especially since Enegbare is going to miss at least half the season.

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TKWorldWide's picture

March 31, 2024 at 12:14 pm

In the nickel, both LB’s have to cover, and that’s been McDuffie’s weakness.

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GregC's picture

March 31, 2024 at 12:47 pm

I also found it odd that the switch from 3-4 to 4-3 was not even mentioned in an article about a linebacker.

Enegbare's injury has nothing to do with McDuffie's playing time though. They play different positions. Enegbare was an OLB in the previous system and will be a DE now.

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PhantomII's picture

March 31, 2024 at 11:05 am

I wish #52 had arms like #58 to be an Elite pass rusher like the Bosas are.

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golfpacker1's picture

March 31, 2024 at 11:44 am

New Draft- Read em and Weep.

25. Jackson Powers-Johnson-OC Oregon

52. Cooper Beebe-OG Kansas State

59. Junior Colson-LB Michigan

91. Jaden Hicks-S Washington State

96. Jaylen Wright-RB Tennessee

123. Elijah Jones-CB Boston College

130. Khristian Boyd-DT Nothern Iowa

153. Isaac Guerendo-RB Louisville

154. Myles Cole-EDGE Texas Tech

169. DeCamerion Richardson-CB Mississippi State

184. Nathaniel Watson-LB Mississippi State

198. Frank Crum-OT Wyoming

219. Tyler Owens-S Texas Tech

The move back and up draft, restocked or added to 8 position groups. Doubled OL, LB, S, & CB.

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HarryHodag's picture

March 31, 2024 at 12:33 pm

The scouts I follow have convinced me that the first two rounds, especially the first round, should consist of players that will be quick difference makers. That's why you often see qb's, receivers and edge rushers taken high. In essence, you need a difference maker to start ASAP. I suspect Gute looks at it the same way. While the Packers need help on the offensive line, they could use a safety or a linebacker much sooner. Rounds 2-5 finds players that become solid starters, while rounds 6-7 finds developmental players.
I suspect they will see who is on the board at 25 and pick the player with the highest rating, though it will likely be in a position of need.

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jont's picture

March 31, 2024 at 01:53 pm

I'm with you, Harry. 1st and 2nd round gets a difference maker.

I like McDuffie. He's made a few plays and is generally solid out there. A good 6th round pick.

It's a stretch, though, to think he's going to blossom into an impact player. Sure, we'd all like to see it, but there are few indications that a big jump is coming.

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WD's picture

March 31, 2024 at 12:00 pm

For those of you who have doubts about Payton Wilson; I suggest you do the research on him and how he has played after his recovery from the injuries. The injuries that occurred two years ago. Bottom line he is the best ILB/Edge on the board and arguably one of the top five athletes in the draft. In laymens terms he is a tackling machine and would be a steal for GB at 25. He would put Quay Walker to shame with all due respect.. He would instantly upgrade our entire defense. Watch the damn film!

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LeotisHarris's picture

March 31, 2024 at 02:34 pm

A pair of torn ACLs, a season-ending shoulder injury, and he's had hamstring issues. In laymen's terms, you'd better have faith in your medical evaluation if you're drafting this kid.

Impressive 2023 season, for sure. Kid was a HS State wrestling champion, too. Those injuries, though, say nope.

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golfpacker1's picture

March 31, 2024 at 07:02 pm

Wasn't Wilson's first knee surgery in high school? Without all the injuries Wilson would be a first-round lock. He still will get drafted 2nd round because of the weak LB class.

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GregC's picture

March 31, 2024 at 12:04 pm

The fact that McDuffie is best at defending the run bodes well for him staying in the mix even if/when the Packers take an LB with a high pick. McDuffie's skills could be ideally suited to being that #3 LB who plays with the base defense on early downs and in short yardage situations. Brian Gutekunst said recently that the base defense is expected to be on the field for only 15% of snaps, which is about half of what I had been hearing up until then. Will it really be such a small percentage? It may depend on how effective the base defense is. With Quay Walker and a high draft pick and McDuffie out there, maybe that unit could earn more playing time.

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NJMagic's picture

March 31, 2024 at 03:48 pm

I think my only quibble with this piece....

Who can actually quote Draft Day???
I'm not saying it's not appropros comparison.... But Draft day???!

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GregMeinholz's picture

March 31, 2024 at 09:34 pm

😆 my friend I am a library of ridiculous references and for some reason while I was writing this, that whole scene popped in my head so I went with it.

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