Starters (C-): Aside from Clay Matthews in 2014, Jake Ryan put together the best season by a Green Bay inside linebacker in years. That’s the good news. The not so good news is that the former Michigan star was still only a slightly above average player. It’ll be very interesting to see if he improves as much from year 2 to 3 as he did from year 1 to 2. Former undrafted free agent Joe Thomas ended the season ahead of fourth-round pick Blake Martinez. And while it won’t be Ali vs. Frazier, their battle in training camp should be pretty intense. Both players are intelligent and hard working. That said, neither should be starting on a good defense.
Depth (C-): The loser between Thomas and Martinez figures to be the top backup, unless GM Ted Thompson does the unthinkable and actually spends a day 2 pick at this position for the first time in over a decade. Journeyman Jordan Tripp was signed late last season and could return. He’s a decent athlete and a very good special teams player. Also around is undersized practice squadder Derrick Mathews. The former tackling machine from Houston flashed enough in camp to eventually earn a spot on the practice squad.
Player to watch: The scouts raved about Martinez in the spring and the coaches did the same in the summer. While his play during the season didn’t live up to the hype, he did show potential between nagging injuries. The former Stanford star is very instinctive and nobody plays harder, but his average size and speed will always be an issue. He lacks ideal take-on strength and he’s stiff in pass coverage.
*Level of need: Depends entirely on who you ask. I, along with the majority of Packers fans, consider this to be a major area of concern. But Thompson and the defensive coaches seem just fine with the top three guys. And since both Matthews and safety Morgan Burnett are expected to see some action at inside linebacker in 2017, it’s hard to imagine any player of substance being added between now and the start of training camp in late July.