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Packers’ Linebackers: Veterans on the Edges, Youth in the Interior

Yesterday I analyzed the Green Bay Packers’ defensive linemen, prefacing it with some observations about the 3-4 defense.

To reiterate, in the three-linemen and four-linebacker scheme, the linebackers are supposed to dart through the gaps created by the down linemen to get to the quarterback. The outside linebackers are pass-rushers primarily, while the inside ones have to be run stoppers, pass defenders, and sometimes blitzers. Green Bay, however, has not used its inside linebackers as pass rushers nearly as much as many other 3-4 teams do.

Green Bay’s Current Linebacker Group

Includes size, age and where the player was drafted.

ILB Jake Ryan: 240, 6’4”, 25, Rd. 4
ILB Blake Martinez: 237, 6’2”, 23, Rd. 4
ILB Joe Thomas: 227, 6’1”, 25, undrafted
ILB Jordan Tripp: 234, 6’3”, 25, Rd. 5

OLB Clay Matthews: 255, 6’3”, 30, Rd. 1
OLB Nick Perry: 265, 6’3”, 26, Rd. 1
OLB Kyler Fackrell: 245, 5’5”, 25, Rd. 3
OLB Jayrone Elliott: 265, 6’3”, 25, undrafted

Assessments and Questions

It’s a fascinating group and full of questions. Is Matthews on the downside of his career? Can Jordan Tripp win a starter’s job? Will Fackrell take a step up after a promising rookie year?

Among the ILBs, three players are about equal in trying to win the two starting spots. Rookie Martinez, despite some injuries, had decent across-the-board stats: 69 tackles, one sack, one INT, and four passes defended.

Joe Thomas, considered the best pass defender, had 70 tackles, one INT and five passes defended.

Jake Ryan had 82 tackles, but his entire impact was as a run-stopper.

There were hardly any forced fumbles in the entire linebacker group. The departed Julius Peppers had two and Fackrell had one – pathetic.

Nick Perry led the outside linebacker group with 52 tackles, 11 sacks four passes defended and one INT. That’s why the Packers paid him.

Pro Football Focus called Matthews one of the biggest underachievers of 2016, which we all knew.

Jayrone Elliott all but disappeared from the radar, but the Packers re-signed him anyway.

Rookie Fackrell had 18 tackles, two sacks, one pass defended and one forced fumble. The Packers are really counting on him to become a regular contributor at outside linebacker and soon.

Jordan Tripp, signed in December, on his fourth team in three years, made no impact with the Dolphins, Jaguars or Seahawks. However, I find his athleticism intriguing and the Packers must too because they did re-sign him this past week.

When’s the last time Green Bay put a really good inside linebacker on the field? It was 2011, when Desmond Bishop put up 115 tackles and five sacks in 13 games, but injuries derailed his career.

Is Nick Perry the new Clay Matthews?

Why can’t the Packers produce a high-volume tackler among their linebackers?

Rob Born

Smart drafters don’t select the best available players, they fill a team’s positions of greatest need.



  1. Howard March 19, 2017

    Rob, I think you do this on purpose to make sure we are paying attention, but no way is Ryan 6-4. Regarding measurables I am sure you know Tripp beat or was equal to Matthews in all predraft drills and measurements except bench press (-1). Not sure what that means, except maybe measurables aren’t that important, or Tripp because of systems he was in, and injuries may have more to offer than many expect at ILB and/or OLB.

    With Peppers and Jones gone the versatility of being able to use a linebacker as a down lineman on third down or in a pinch is not in the cards with this group. Something will need to change in alignments and/or quantity of D lineman on the final roster.

    To me Ryan by the end of the year was probably better in coverage than Thomas. If there is one thing I would like to see with this group of ILbs is someone or two that can cover the middle of the field. The middle of the field is always there for the taking. Good ILBers should make receivers pay for crossing the middle of the field and should also be able to have the speed to make deep drops and have the length to effect throws. I am sorry to any Thomas fans but to me he needs to be beat out by someone or this team will continue to struggle with short to medium passes in the middle of the field. That along with not having taller and more physical corners are killing this pass defense in the defensive backfield.

    I think Fackrell will probably be an upgrade in the pass rush over Jones and maybe Peppers at OLB if he remains healthy. Fackrell was destroyed in run containment. In the first Atlanta game he was blown off the ball consistantly. He needs to get stronger at holding the edge. You would think that Fackrell would be stronger as he is older than most rookies. He may never get better in run defense.

    I hope two OLBs are added to this group in the draft. After that improvement and good health for the rest is a must.

  2. John D. March 19, 2017

    Kyler is 6′ 5″ — Nice articles regarding the D yesterday & today. Thx.