Earlier this week, the Jets added defensive back Elijah Campbell to the active roster after he had been elevated from their practice squad to play special teams for them in Sunday’s game. Today, we’re going to take an in-depth look at his strengths and weaknesses.
The 25-year old is listed at 5’11” and 190 pounds and was undrafted out of Northern Iowa in 2018. Campbell was with the Cleveland Browns as a rookie but didn’t make his NFL debut until Sunday’s game against Las Vegas. He has also played in the AAF and XFL.
Campbell started off as a running back in high school but moved into a two-way role in his senior year and turned heads by racking up six interceptions.
His college career initially saw him going down the junior college route where he helped lead Iowa Western to an undefeated season by racking up 21 tackles and five passes defensed.
In 2015, he transferred to Northern Illinois and registered five tackles in a reserve safety role. However, he left the program at the end of the season and transferred to Northern Iowa.
In his first year with the Panthers, Campbell started 11 games and had three interceptions including a pick-six to go along with 36 tackles. He was voted to the all-Missouri Valley Conference second team.
As a senior in 2017, he had his best year with career highs in tackles (51), passes defensed (12), interceptions (five) and forced fumbles (three). This time he was voted to the all-MVFC first team.
After a good pro day, Campbell was hopeful of being selected in the 2018 NFL draft but ended up signing with the Browns as an undrafted free agent. He stayed with them through camp and played in four preseason games but was released in final cuts.
Since leaving the Browns, Campbell played for the DC Defenders of the XFL and the Birmingham Iron of the AAF. The Jets added him to their practice squad earlier this season and he made his debut for them on special teams after being elevated for Sunday’s game against the Raiders.
Let’s move onto some more in-depth analysis of what Campbell brings to the table, based on in-depth research and film study.
Campbell is quite small and has short arms but put up good athletic numbers at his pro day. He ran a 4.40 and put up a 39-inch vertical, although the rest of his numbers were around average for the cornerback position.
Campbell has experience of playing both as a safety and as a cornerback, but is perhaps most likely to play safety with the Jets given his lack of length.
In college, he played both as a cornerback and as a safety and then when he saw preseason action with the Browns he was employed as a deep safety. In the XFL and AAF, he played cornerback, though.
Campbell’s coverage numbers have been reasonable whichever level he has played at and he hasn’t given up a lot of yards or big plays.
As a safety, his previous experience as a cornerback should serve him well, but he generally looks comfortable in zone coverages or off coverage.
He displays good range and closing speed when ranging deep, which was how the Browns opted to use him.
He had mixed results at cornerback in the XFL and AAF although he has the speed to run with a receiver on a deep route. On this play, Campbell broke up a fourth down pass, although there was an air of fortune about this.
Campbell generally seems to do a good job of staying with his man and locating the ball so he can compete for it at the catch point.
He had eight interceptions in his last two seasons at college, including one that he ran back for a touchdown, but hasn’t intercepted a pass since and, in fact, dropped a couple of easy ones.
Campbell’s short arms could be a detriment to his ability to play press coverage and his lack of size generally can impact on his ability to compete for contested catches.
Despite his small stature, Campbell is often flying around and is capable of leveling some big hits, as he does here.
Penalties haven’t been a major issue for Campbell although he did have some defensive penalties in college.
At the pro level he has had a few penalties on special teams and also got called for this defensive pass interference call down the field.
As noted, Campbell can be a big hitter, although at times he can be a little reckless and prone to missing tackles.
He does close on the ball well though, so when he does make contact, he can sometimes force fumbles as he did three times in his senior year.
Campbell has contributed in run defense from time to time and will even come up fast into the box to contribute when he’s lined up deep.
Campbell hasn’t blitzed very often at any level, although he had one sack in his senior year. This was on a play where he came up from deep to tackle the quarterback as he scrambled following a bad snap. He had a pressure on his only pass rush attempt in the AAF.
On special teams, Campbell’s speed is an obvious asset and he’s been employed as a punt gunner in college and in the AAF. The Jets used him in this role on Sunday too.
In preseason action with the Browns, Campbell was instead used in punt protection but his ability to get downfield fast was apparent on two impressive tackles.
Aside from kick coverage, Campbell has also played as a vice on the punt return unit and also impressed with this punt block in the XFL.
Campbell should benefit from having played a variety of different positions over the course of his career so far.
On the field he makes some quick reads on runs and short passes and comes up to make the play. However, in center field, he blew his cover one assignment on this touchdown.
Campbell has shown real determination in finding his way onto an NFL roster having played for three different college teams and in three different pro leagues.
He apparently has a good work ethic and watches a lot of film and there don’t appear to be any red flags in terms of off-field concerns.
Campbell hasn’t been affected by injuries much in his career so far, although he was on the injury list with an abdominal injury during his time in the XFL.
Campbell has played in a variety of schemes and roles, albeit that he doesn’t have much experience at the NFL level.
With the Jets, he could play as a deep safety, although if he is employed as a cornerback then he would probably be more comfortable in zone coverage than in man-to-man assignments. While he’s occasionally lined up in the slot when playing safety, he’s usually played on the outside when starting at corner.
Ironically, he’s a player that previously played in Gregg Williams’ system with the Browns but finds himself elevated to the active roster the day after Williams’ departure.
He’s a former teammate of Brady Sheldon, who was signed to the practice squad on the same day as Campbell was signed to the active roster.
Ashtyn Davis and Bennett Jackson both got injured in the Raiders game so Campbell could enter Sunday’s game as the team’s third safety, barring a position change for one of the other defensive backs.
While the Jets don’t run many three-safety packages, this would put him one injury away from being called into action.
Unless and until that happens, Campbell will probably continue to get some run on special teams and will look to make contributions there to prove his worth.