There has been a lot of talk in Packer Nation this off-season about the linebacker position. Questions still need to be answered about the OLB position, the veterans Clay Matthews and Nick Perry as well as up-and-comers Vince Biegel, Kyler Fackrell and Reggie Gilbert. Inside, Blake Martinez lived up to the name “Machinez” in 2017 and the Packers drafted Oren Burks in the third round who was brought in largely for his upside and ability to cover receivers. But one of the Packers’ linebackers also had a good 2017 and got little credit for it. Let’s talk about the Packers’ “forgotten” linebacker.
Every defensive coordinator knows that stopping the run is job one in the NFL. If a team can consistently run the ball it not only will likely stay with the run as it is a safe play, but also will cause a lot more headaches pulling out play-action and passing. The Packers have been a good run stuffing team since the year they were forced to move Clay Matthews inside to take care of a soft middle. Inside linebackers are important and the focus for Packers fans has largely been the ability of inside linebackers to play cover. This makes sense in a pass friendly league and on a defense that has struggled to keep good quarterbacks and particularly good qb/tight end duos in check for years.
One inside linebacker who has recently received notoriety is the one that has been largely overlooked by Packer Nation. That ILB is Jake Ryan. Ryan was brought in as a run-stuffer and has proven up to the task, recording 82 tackles, 25 assists, with no sacks in 2016. But Ryan showed consistency in 2018, recording 81 tackles with 29 assists in 2017 and adding one sack to his stats. This for an inside linebacker who was often off the field on passing downs as his coverage skills are not his forte.
Recently, Pro Football Focus put out an article outlining inside linebackers’ run-stop percentage. Jake Ryan was tied for 5th on that list with two other ILB’s including Reuben Foster and Kevin Minter. But Ryan would be arguably the best of the lot as he recorded 269 snaps against the run and had 30 stops for a run stop percentage of 11.2.
So in all the hooplah about Blake, don’t forget the Jake. The run game is important and the Packers have been quite good at it recently, partly due to the stalwart contribution of Jake Ryan. It is a passing league but guys like Ryan still help by forcing opponents to throw and by putting them in unfavorable down-and-distance situations. Jake Ryan has been a consummate Packer and I am sure will not “go softly into this dark night”. Competition at the position is always good and Ryan does not seem to fit the “mold” as to where the ILB position is drifting but as of right now, he is making a valuable contribution.