Nate Palmer to Packers: How Does OLB Fit with Green Bay?

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst IApril 28, 2013

Photo: MVC Sports
Photo: MVC Sports

While the Green Bay Packers will likely enter the 2013 season with two first-round starters at outside linebacker, few other positions on the roster possessed less overall depth at the start of the 2013 NFL draft. 

In taking Illinois State outside linebacker Nate Palmer with their lone pick in the sixth round, the Packers set out to fix that problem. 

An Illinois transfer, Palmer has been one of the more productive pass rushers in the nation over the last two seasons. He'll now be expected to back up both Clay Matthews and Nick Perry next season. 

Here's a more in-depth look at how Palmer fits in Green Bay.

Role: Important backup, situational pass rusher?

Despite outside linebacker being one of the most important positions in the 3-4 defense, the Packers began the 2013 draft with a shocking lack of depth behind Matthews and Perry, the expected starters. 

Losing contributors from last season was to blame.

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First, Erik Walden bolted for big money with the Indianapolis Colts in free agency. Later on, Frank Zombo inked a deal with the Kansas City Chiefs. 

A few weeks into free agency, the Packers were down to just Dezman Moses (2012 undrafted free agent) and Micah Johnson as backup outside linebackers. 

Palmer, a former defensive end at Illinois State, will be expected to move to outside linebacker and become a primary backup. Considering Matthews and Perry both missed time last season with injury, adding a talented backup like Palmer became a must. 

But if he's anywhere close to as productive in the NFL as he was during his two seasons at Illinois State, the Packers will have found more than just a backup. 

Over 25 games during his junior and senior seasons, Palmer racked up 17 sacks, 25.5 tackles for losses and five forced fumbles. He also led the nation in quarterback hits as a senior with 27.

Clearly, Palmer knows how to get to the quarterback. 

Now, he'll transition from a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end to a stand-up rusher from outside linebacker.

According to Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune, it's a transition Palmer is comfortable making. 

"I’m more comfortable in a 3-4 scheme, but I have played regular linebacker in a 4-3," Palmer said. "It would just be knocking the rust off. It wouldn’t be all new to me."

If Palmer grasps the transition fast enough, it's conceivable to think he'll get an opportunity to rush the passer in some situations. Dom Capers is well known for using a number of different packages, including looks that bring five or more pass-rushers on the field with just one or two down linemen. 

But for the most part, Palmer will simply be asked to learn his new position under the comfort of knowing two first-round picks are playing ahead of him. Most sixth-round picks are afforded that opportunity.

The Packers will certainly expect him to be a productive player if either Matthews, Perry or Moses goes down next season, but in the short term, his fit in Green Bay is mostly as much-needed depth at an important position. 

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