Per usual, no one would suggest the inside linebacker position was a strength for the Green Bay Packers in 2016. We’ve long noted how the Packers under Ted Thompson undervalue the position.
Green Bay went into the 2016 season with two fourth-round picks — Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez — and an undrafted free agent — Joe Thomas — manning the middle.
Although he came in with much fanfare, Martinez didn’t make the impact that was expected. The Packers drafted him and then touted him as a three-down linebacker. However, the area in which he was supposed to excel — coverage — was the area he happened to be the worst at. Martinez was eventually replaced by Thomas in the lineup.
That presented a whole other set of problems. While Thomas is the best cover guy of three, he’s by far the worst against the run. Not only can Thomas not get off blocks effectively, he often gets bowled over and knocked backwards by ball carriers.
That brings us to Ryan, the only one of these three guys who was anything resembling solid in 2016.
Ryan finished second on the Packers with 82 tackles, trailing only Morgan Burnett’s 93, despite missing two games to injury. He also defended three passes. In the postseason, Ryan led the Packers with 20 tackles. That may seem unspectacular, but Ryan improved dramatically from his first season to his second.
Most-improved second-year LBs
Kwon Alexander, @TBBuccaneers, +45.7
Jake Ryan, @Packers, +33.9
The question is, is Ryan’s improvement enough? The answer seems pretty simple to us.
Yes, if the Packers put someone competent next to him. Joe Thomas is not that guy and Blake Martinez has not proven he can be that guy.
The easy answer here is to move Clay Matthews back inside, where he actually seems to stay healthy and where he would solidify that position. Matthews has proven year after year, he can’t stay healthy as an outside linebacker. He also just turned in his worst career season while playing that position.
That does weaken the outside linebacker spot, a place where the Packers have too many questions the way it is. Regardless, with or without Matthews outside, the Packers are going to need to address their edge rusher spot.
We’re not holding our breath on free agency, but if Thompson were smart, he’d address both inside and outside linebacker this offseason. If Matthews is the guy for the inside, then the Packers probably need to address outside linebacker twice in one way or another.
Even if Jake Ryan continues to improve, it still looks like there’s a gaping hole next to him.