College: South Carolina St.
NFL Experience: 1 year
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Expectations coming into the season: Thomas didn’t make the Packers out of training camp,but returned once the Packers snatched him off the Cowboys practice squad early in the season. The Packers brought Thomas back to provide extra coverage in their dime package. Bringing back a familiar player from another team’s practice squad is a very Ted Thompson thing to do. When you’re an inside linebacker who only weights 227 pounds,you better stand out in coverage because odds are,you’re not going to see the field much in running situations.
Player’s highlights/low-lights: Thomas never did nab an interception of his own,but he did deflect a pass that Ha Ha Clinton-Dix picked off against the Rams. Thomas also recorded his first career sack against Alex Smith and the Chiefs and proved to be a decent blizter. Unfortunately,Thomas didn’t turn out to be the reliable dime coverage linebacker he was brought in to be. Speed and quickness wasn’t an issue. Reaction time was.
Level of Expectations met: At this point,do Packers fans expect anything from the inside linebacker position? It’s been season after season of complaining about the gaping hole inside,and seeing players like Thomas cycle through and contribute here and there,but make minimal impact overall.
Player’s contributions to team success: Thomas was feisty on the blitz,which was something I don’t think teams expected from a guy who weighs at least 20 pounds less than the Packers starting running back. However,when it came to standing out in pass coverage in space,which is difficult for any linebacker,let alone a guy off another team’s practice squad,Thomas missed more often than he hit. Overall,Thomas was just another guy passing through the Packers’ rotation of mediocrity at inside linebacker.
Player’s contributions in the playoffs: Thomas was decent against both Washington and Arizona. Nothing spectacular or game-changing,but solid.
Intangibles/misc: You rarely saw Thomas line up incorrectly or completely blow an assignment in Dom Capers’ notoriously complex defensive scheme. That’s important for a middle linebacker on a defense that relies heavily on blitzing and several moving parts.
Overall Grade: D+
NFL Experience: Rookie
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Expectations coming into the season: Normally,a rookie middle linebacker selected in the fourth round of the draft wouldn’t generate much buzz. But since the Packers inside linebacker situation has been so dismal in recent seasons,Ryan managed to get a little more attention than the usual obscure mid-round pick. I don’t think he was expected to be a savior inside,but he was expected to contribute and provide hope for the future.
Player’s highlights/low-lights: Would you believe me if I told you that Jake Ryan’s tackles per snap (5.8) were more than twice the rate of Clay Matthews? Well,it’s true. That’s an obvious highlight. Ryan’s lowlight came in week 16 against Arizona where he looked totally overmatched in space against any Arizona offensive player he was asked to cover or tackle. Getting back to the highlights,Ryan looked much better during the playoff re-match with Arizona,notching five solo tackles.
Level of Expectations met: It took a while,but Ryan eventually got his shot. He didn’t make Packers fans forget about all the struggles the team has had at middle linebacker,but he did do some nice things. Is Ryan the answer for the Packers at middle linebacker? Not by himself. Can he be part of the solution inside that allows Matthews to move back outside? I think so. That’s hardly high praise,but it’s a step in the right direction.
Player’s contributions to team success: There weren’t any games where we said to ourselves,”Man,Jake Ryan sure dominated today.” There also weren’t many instances where we threw things at our television sets following another Ryan blunder. After Nate Palmer spun his wheels and Joe Thomas didn’t appear to be an every-down player,Ryan at least showed he belonged when he finally was given the opportunity. Is Ryan’s ceiling higher than simply a player who belongs? I don’t think so,but you’re not going to have an All-Pro at every position. For a kid in his first season on a team desperate for inside linebacker help,just showing you belonged is pretty damn good.
Player’s contributions in the playoffs: Ryan totaled 11 tackles in two playoff games and only got burned badly once in pass coverage (early in the Arizona game,Carson Palmer overthrew the receiver). Much like he did in the regular season,Ryan was solid,but unspectacular.
Intangibles/misc: We’ll know more about Ryan’s intangibles when training camp opens this summer. Ryan’s going to need a little time in the weight room to help him better shed blocks. He also could benefit from impact training that helps him become more explosive in tight spaces. To this fan’s eye,nothing appeared to be wrong with Ryan’s attitude or preparedness,but I think Ryan’s true test when it comes to intangibles is happening now as he prepares for the 2016 season. Will he put in the time to take the next step?
Overall Grade: C