By Jon Meerdink
In more ways than one, Carl Bradford is this year’s Johnathan Franklin. A fourth round pick, lacking ideal size for his position, Bradford, like Franklin, was expected to add depth and flair to a position in need of a shot in the arm. Instead, like Franklin, Bradford has slogged through and underwhelming and, at times, all together invisible preseason.
He’s struggled to the point that the Packers have moved him to inside linebacker. Some scouts thought he was better suited to that position from the get go, but the Packers kept him outside for the first few weeks of camp. Perhaps they thought he was better suited to that position. Perhaps they didn’t think he could make the switch. Whatever the case, such a late move seems more like desperation than an honest evaluation of his skills.
On the most basic level, Bradford does look the part of an inside linebacker. He’s the same height as A.J. Hawk, albeit 17 pounds heavier. He projects a physical presence more like San Francisco’s NaVorrow Bowman (6-0, 242) or Buffalo’s Brandon Spikes (6-2, 255) than an outside pass rusher, where long-limbed, rangy athletes are the norm.
Skill-wise, it looks like he’s also got a shot. Almost every scouting report out there describes him as a playmaker with a nose for the football. The descriptors are almost stunning in some instances: “shows an explosive burst to close emphatically,” “plays with urgency and beelines to the ball,”knifes into inside gaps with initial quickness, can be disruptive shooting gaps.”
Obviously, those are all attributes you’d like to see from any player, not just an inside linebacker, but we haven’t seen anything resembling that in the first three preseason games, where NFL.com credits him with just one tackle in three combined performances playing outside. Unless he truly flashes something fantastic and unexpected at middle linebacker tonight, it’s fair to wonder if he’ll still be with the team next week in Seattle.
But still, there’s the chance that we just haven’t seen the real Carl Bradford yet. Scouts don’t just give empty praise to give it. There’s something there. Perhaps he can still be that relentless, attacking player. Maybe the guy that shows up on the highlights is still out there somewhere, waiting for that place to play. Maybe inside linebacker is that place for Carl Bradford.