Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Green Bay Packers’ linebacker Jake Ryan has something to prove in 2018.
It may be true Green Bay Packers‘ inside linebacker Jake Ryan’s role is diminishing, but he’s actually seen progress each year since the Packers drafted him in 2015. As a fourth-round pick, Ryan was brought in to provide depth behind Sam Barrington and Nate Palmer, but after Barrington suffered a season-ending injury in Week 1 vs the Chicago Bears, Ryan would have to make the most of an unexpected opportunity.
Initially, Dom Capers and the Packers coaching staff moved supreme edge rusher Clay Matthews to inside linebacker hoping to maintain the speed over the middle that was just lost with Barrington’s foot injury. The move was much to Matthews’ chagrin, however, he remained effective finishing the year with 66 tackles and 6.5 sacks. Meanwhile, Ryan was making his own impression eventually beating out Palmer as the starter beside Matthews.
Ryan finished the season with 50 tackles in 260 snaps and five starts.
Green Bay brought in the Michigan-product knowing he was still waiting to fulfill his potential. Prior to the draft, Ryan was never described as having extreme athleticism and it showed in his first year as he struggled in pass coverage.
In his second season, Ryan entered training camp as the de facto starter looking to maintain his status after the Packers drafted Stanford’s Blake Martinez for a similar role.
When Week 1 came, both Ryan and Martinez were starting inside projecting as one of the most promising linebacking duos the Packers had in years.
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An ankle injury caused Ryan to miss two games but he saw his snap count double, finishing the year third on the team in tackles. Pro Football Focus ranked Ryan third overall on their list of most improved players for 2016. After receiving a grade of 42.5 as a rookie, he jumped up to 76.4. His pass coverage greatly improved and he got better against the run, only missing two tackles.
In 2017, Ryan once again received praise from PFF finishing with an overall grade of 82.1 (19th among linebackers). He received a hefty performance bonus upwards of a million dollars to be added to the final year of his rookie contract. Ryan was the only player from his draft class to receive the bonus as he finished second on the team in tackles only behind Martinez. Yet, in lieu of all Ryan has accomplished in three NFL seasons, it feels as though he still faces an uphill battle.
In consecutive drafts, the Packers selected an inside linebacker this time in the form of Vanderbilt’s Oren Burks. Burks offers a hybrid playstyle with history as a safety in college. Not only does Ryan have to worry about Burks taking some of his reps, but second-year safety Josh Jones as well. Jones spent a lot of time playing in the box as rookie proving to be effective against the run. While Ryan’s performance elevated on paper and film, his snap count last went from 558 to 507 even though he played an additional game. However, this may be a result of Capers’ heavily favored nitro package which featured a safety lining up as an inside linebacker.
Now that Mike Pettine is the new defensive coordinator we have little evidence to turn to in support of how much he favors sub packages. Pettine likes for his defense to be versatile alluding to the notion that Matthews could return to inside linebacker in some defensive fronts. Thus adding another player to this list of guys who could squeeze Ryan out of the rotation.
Again Ryan will enter training camp with the starting spot as his to lose, but if he is unable to show he’s deserving of another contract 2018 might be his last season in Green Bay.