AJ Hawk and Brad Jones were the last two Packers who resembled any type of “stability” at inside linebacker. In 2013 the two combined for 202 tackles. Numbers defensive coordinator Dom Capers has not seen since. After Jones’ play wilted away and AJ Hawk grew old, the likes of Sam Barrington and Jake Ryan were next in line. Barrington showed early promise, but a foot injury ended his time in Green Bay. That is when the Packers selected Blake Martinez in 2016 to help with the rotation. Meanwhile, Ryan was now a regular down player. Now, entering the 2017 season, it appears Ryan and Martinez are here to stay as one the youngest starting linebacker duos in the NFL.
Prior to the secondary, inside linebacker was the most discussed deficiency of the Packers defense. This is no longer the case as Ryan and Martinez get more acclimated. They could be the future of the linebacking core in Green Bay. Thus, Packer backers better get used to watching two former 4th rounders chase down running backs and trying their hand against tight ends in coverage.
With a combined age of 48, Ryan and Martinez are the youngest starting 3-4 inside linebackers in the entire league. The sky is the limit for these two barring injury. They are also the reason the Packers did not select a single inside linebacker in the 2017 draft.
Jake Ryan started 10 of the 14 games he appeared in during the 2016 season. Martinez was good for 9 out of 13. Both were opening day starters while Martinez even wore the headset helmet as a rookie. Likely the same case for 2017 as well.
Their numbers do not jump off the page, however their solidarity does. Ryan logged a PFF grade of 76.4 which ranked 42nd out of all linebackers. Martinez held his own in the run game with a rating of 75.7. The highest among any rookie.
Yes, Martinez saw more instant success than Ryan, however Ryan was second on the team last year with 82 tackles. More than Pro Bowl safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix who started every game.
It is perplexing to think that Martinez may have more potential after making 69 (45 solo) tackles despite playing only 42% of defensive snaps. His numbers compare favorably to that of Jets rookie Darron Lee who was the 20th pick overall. Lee started and appeared in the same amount of games as Martinez, but played 62% of the snaps. Lee recorded 73 total tackles with 45 of them being solo.
If Ryan and Martinez continue to progress as run stoppers and improve in coverage, they can develop into one of the best inside linebacking duos of all 3-4 defenses in the NFL.
___________________Brandon Carwile was a Cheesehead at birth. His dad grew up attending games at Lambeau and passed on the legacy. He has covered the Packers for over five years and currently works with packerstalk.com. Find him on twitter at @PackerScribe.