Most NFL scouts think highly of Minnesota senior defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman. If Golden Gophers coach Jerry Kill is correct, scouts eventually are going to take to sophomore linebacker De'Vondre Campbell, too.
Before the season, Kill compared Campbell to Hageman in terms of NFL potential. "He doesn't mess around," Kill told reporters of Campbell. "He's focused and locked in."
In the first two games of the season, Campbell hasn't disappointed. Campbell (6-feet-5, 225 pounds) remains raw and has yet to start, but his athletic ability has shone through and he is fourth on the Gophers with 11 tackles. He also has a tackle for a loss and a pass breakup. Campbell could get his first start Saturday when the Gophers play FCS member Western Illinois.
The Gophers signed two junior college linebackers in February, Campbell and Damien Wilson, and both have met expectations. Wilson (6-2, 254), a junior, is starting at middle linebacker and is tied for the team lead with 15 tackles. Wilson, who began his career at FCS member Alcorn State before heading to junior college, has provided a much-needed physical presence against the run.
Wilson, who made 122 tackles for Jones Co. (Miss.) CC last season, has a 36-inch vertical jump. But his athleticism isn't as good as Campbell's, who was a finalist in the 200-meter dash as a high school senior in Florida. Campbell played on a poor high school team (Fort Myers Cypress Lake) and also had grade issues, so he ended up going to Hutchinson (Kan.) CC. He didn't play in 2011 but made a splash last season with 83 tackles and 3.5 sacks. He originally committed to Tennessee but changed his mind after Derek Dooley was fired. He then committed to Kansas State, but again reneged and visited Texas before signing with Minnesota.
Campbell has added about 15 pounds since signing with Minnesota and has told reporters he wants to add about 15 more by the time next season rolls around.
"I know I'm raw," Campbell told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "I try to work on it. The main thing I know I struggle at is [stopping] the run game, so I try to approach every day and get better and better."
If he does indeed get better, he should vie for All-Big Ten honors next fall. And if he vies for All-Big Ten honors, you can be sure NFL scouts will notice, something they haven't done much with Gophers linebackers: Minnesota has had one linebacker drafted since 1986 (Nate Triplett by the Vikings in 2010).