Everyone does player grades.
Ours are different.
We do ours on a salary-cap curve. After all, the salary cap largely determines long-term success in the NFL. Players with big-money contracts must be big-time performers. Those highly paid players must be supplemented by several small-budget but high-production players.
With that, we continue this series with the inside linebackers. Salary comparisons are from OverTheCap.com. Stats are from STATS, Pro Football Focus and the Packers’ coaching staff.
2016 cap: $639,169 (66th among all 3-4 inside linebackers and 4-3 middle linebackers)
Despite missing two games and averaging 39.9 snaps per game, Ryan finished second on the team with 84 tackles and a team-best tackle rate of 6.65 snaps per tackle. Tackles are one thing. Impact tackles are quite another. And Ryan fared well in that regard, too. Ryan finished 19th in the league with eight stuffs, defined by STATS as a tackle at or behind the line of scrimmage on a running play. Pro Football Focus has a stat called “run stops,” which measures impact tackles such as a first-and-10 tackle that holds the play to 3 yards or less. Ryan had 26 stops and finished sixth out of the 60 inside/middle linebackers who played at least 120 run snaps with a run-stop percentage of 11.0. He missed six tackles. Ryan statistically was the Packers’ best coverage linebacker — though that’s not saying much. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed a 74.1 percent completion rate but unit-best rates of 6.48 yards per target, 0.69 yards per pass-coverage snap and 12.8 snaps per reception. He was not involved in a turnover play, didn’t have a sack and was credited for 1.5 hurries. If put alongside a true three-down linebacker, Ryan might flourish.
2016 cap: $545,848 (80th at position)
Martinez looked like a potential standout coming out of training camp. From that regard, he was a disappointment. The fourth-round rookie tallied 62 tackles and one interception in 13 games (33.7 snaps per game). While he had only three stuffs, he piled up 21 run stops. His run-stop rate of 10.0 percent ranked a solid 12th out of the aforementioned 60 inside/middle linebackers. However, he missed eight tackles and his pass coverage, which was so good in camp, was a disappointment. He allowed a 73.0 percent completion rate, 7.35 yards per target and one touchdown. Martinez yielded unit-worst rates of 1.42 yards per pass-coverage snap and 7.1 snaps per reception. Too often, he got burned by misdirection. In the playoff game against the Giants, he was beat down the middle by tight end Will Tye and then missed the tackle to turn a big gain into a really big gain. As a rusher, he had one sack and 1.5 hurries. Martinez was playing about two-thirds of the snaps until a knee injury against Washington. He missed the next three games and then played in just 81 snaps the next six games, including one vs. Dallas in the playoffs.
2016 cap: $525,000 (83rd at position)
Thomas went from the dime linebacker to the every-down linebacker in an effort to get more speed on the field. During the first eight games, Thomas averaged about 37 percent playing time. During the final eight games, he played 100 percent of the snaps four times. If not for a late-season back injury, he would have been around 95 percent playing time. In all, he played a unit-high 632 snaps in 16 games and averaged 39.5. At 227 pounds, Thomas did what he could in a too-big role. Using speed and intelligence, Thomas finished with 77 tackles and one fumble recovery. However, too few of those tackles were impact tackles. While Thomas played 73 more snaps than Ryan, Ryan beat Thomas in stuffs (eight to one) and run stops (26 to 15). Thomas also missed eight tackles. He didn’t have a sack and led the unit with a meager two hurries. A lot was asked of Thomas in coverage but the results weren’t great. He allowed a completion rate of 80.0 percent, 1.37 yards per coverage snap and 7.8 snaps per reception. It appeared he was worn down by the end of the season. Thomas had one interception but didn’t allow a touchdown.
2016 cap: $105,882 (120th at position)
Tripp signed on Dec. 14. He didn’t play from scrimmage but had one tackle in two regular-season games and four more in the playoffs. A fifth-round pick in 2014, Green Bay is Tripp’s fourth team. At the 2014 Combine, the 6-foot-3, 234-pound prospect ran his 40 in 4.67 seconds with a sizzling 3.96 in the 20-yard shuttle and 22 reps on the bench. That 20 time was the second-fastest among all defensive players, eclipsed only by a defensive back. With that combination, he is worth another look as a restricted free agent.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.