Green Bay Packers: A Look at Isaiah McDuffie & What he Adds to Defense

CHESTNUT HILL, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 24: Isaiah McDuffie #55 of the Boston College Eagles takes the field ahead of a game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Alumni Stadium on October 24, 2020 in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)
CHESTNUT HILL, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 24: Isaiah McDuffie #55 of the Boston College Eagles takes the field ahead of a game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Alumni Stadium on October 24, 2020 in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images) /

After the draft, GM Brian Gutekunst told us that the Green Bay Packers were looking to land a linebacker earlier than what they did and that they might explore free agency for a veteran option. While I believe that Green Bay is comfortable heading into the new season with Krys Barnes and Kamal Martin as their top-2 on the depth chart, both did miss time in 2020 with injuries, and depth is very much needed at the position.

Isaiah McDuffie, the Green Bay Packers sixth-round pick out of Boston College, can provide that depth as well as a boost on special teams–which, as we all know, is very greatly needed.

McDuffie would appear in 12 games during the 2018 season, where he would finish with 85 tackles, 5.5 of which were for a loss, along with six sacks and 14 total pressures. In coverage, he would allow 17 receptions on 22 targets at 10.1 yards per catch with three pass breakups.

Unfortunately, the following season McDuffie was unable to build off that performance as he was sidelined for much of the season with a lower-body injury. He would appear in just four games.

A fully healthy McDuffie in 2020, however, went on to have a highly productive season. In 11 games, he would post 107 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, with three sacks and 14 pressures. Although he would struggle in coverage again, giving up 29 receptions on 34 targets for 13.6 yards per catch and three touchdowns–although he did long an interception and a pass breakup.

While his production was up for the most part, by PFF’s grading system, McDuffie’s 2020 season was much worse than his 2018 season–so take that as you will.

McDuffie’s issues in coverage would lead you to believe that he’s not the best athlete, but that isn’t the case. He moves well in space and posted a 4.61 40-yard dash at his Pro-Day with a 2.63 20-yard split. McDuffie has the functional athleticism needed at linebacker, but as Joe Marino of The Draft Network put it, he needs to become a “better processor.” Meanwhile, PFF ($$) calls him a “reactor” rather than a “playmaker.”

Where McDuffie can shine right away with the Green Bay Packers is on special teams — he has 320 career special teams snaps at Boston College — where his speed and reliability as a tackler can hopefully help play a role in turning this struggling unit around. And if he does see time on the defensive side of the ball, that tackling ability will serve him well in the usual lightboxes that Joe Barry utilizes.

Now let’s take a deep dive into McDuffie’s game and what he can add to this Green Bay Packers team. Here is what a few draft analysts had to say in their pre-draft reports.

Joe Marino – The Draft Network

"“A high school running back and linebacker, Isaiah McDuffie initially played safety at Boston College before transitioning and settling into the linebacker position where he started for 2.5 seasons. McDuffie’s best year came in 2018 and he never built on that season. When studying McDuffie on film, it’s easy to notice his functional athleticism, quickness, fluidity, and urgency. He’s a good athlete that is hard-charging in pursuit and plays with the game with great enthusiasm. McDuffie is an excellent tackler that aims low, wraps, and rarely comes up empty. From a physical traits perspective, he has the ability to play in space and coverage. With that said, McDuffie has to become a better processor.While he makes quick reads, they are often incorrect. Compounding matters is that he often plays the game through a straw and struggles to get off blocks. McDuffie has many of the characteristics of a matchup linebacker in a 4-3 defense where he can cover, play in space, and pursue, but he has a long way to go in terms of play diagnosing and processing. McDuffie was a steady presence on special teams at Boston College and that is probably his best chance of sticking at the next level to give him a chance to develop as a linebacker.”"

Pro Football Focus ($$)

"“McDuffie is a new-wave linebacker whose build would have made him a safety a decade ago. He has that short-area burst and running back-matching athleticism that everyone covets at the position. What he doesn’t quite have yet is a high-level feel for the position. You see his eyes get locked onto stimuli too long in both the run game and in coverage. McDuffie is far more a “reactor” than a “playmaker” at this point of his career, and the grades reflect that.”"

Lance Zierlein –

"“McDuffie plays with a palpable energy and rarely gears down until the whistle blows. He’s undersized, but is at his best playing inside. That’s where his recognition talent and instincts take over and allow him to race to run lanes ahead of the block. He pursues with leverage but has the burst to accelerate and attack when it’s time to finish. His full-tilt playing style will lead to occasional issues with pursuit angles and being out of balance as a tackler, though. He’s feisty but takes time to free himself from blockers and was ineffective when asked to drop into coverage. He has the ability to become a quality backup with core special teams value.”"

Tony Pauline – Pro Football Network

"“Positives: Slightly undersized, an athletic linebacker with good instincts. Quickly locates the ball, correctly reads the action, and shows good awareness in coverage. Remains disciplined with assignments, gets depth on pass drops, and keeps the action in front of him. Works hard getting to the action, sells out, and wraps up tackling. Displays a great head for the ball and makes a lot of athletic plays.Negatives: May be tapped out physically and does not possess great growth potential. Lacks elite play speed for a smaller linebacker.Analysis: McDuffie was a tough, hard-nosed defender who showed athleticism but comes with some limitations. He’ll be a solid run-and-chase linebacker who is best suited on the inside of a 3-4 alignment, and he makes plays with instincts and hustle.”"