HOW THEY GRADED
For a look at how the Packers’ inside linebackers fared in 2015 — and why the position could factor into Green Bay’s draft plans — here’s a review of Bob McGinn’s player grades in January:
Sam Barrington: Entered the season ranked 15th on the Journal Sentinel's most-important player list because he was projected to play every snap at strong inside LB. His season ended 16 snaps into the opener with a foot injury that required surgery. The Packers are expected to draft or sign at least two ILBs, but at this point he's the best on the roster. Barrington isn't big, but he burns with intensity and shows pop as a tackler. If he can play beyond his size (6-1, 240) and 4.76 speed in coverage, he could be the answer. Grade: Incomplete.
Clay Matthews: Played 1,152 of 1,189 snaps, including 882 at ILB (74.2%) and 270 (22.7%) at OLB. He took one for the team, spending 1½ years inside, but he belongs outside. His production in 2015 was disappointing. Among the four ILBs, he ranked a distant last in tackles per snap (one every 12.1). An extremely accurate tackler throughout his career, he missed 12 (five more than his career high) to rank third on the defense. He did equal his career-high in tackles for loss with 7 1⁄ 2, and for the fifth time in seven seasons led the club in pressures (34 1⁄ 2). Matthews also was out of position too often in coverage. Of the 12 pass plays of 20 yards or more allowed by the LBs, he was responsible for 6 1⁄ 2. He also gave up two TD passes, equaling his total from his first six seasons. His highenergy, fast-paced style simply is more condu- cive outside than inside. Grade: B-minus.
*Nate Palmer: Third-year man beat out Joe Thomas and Carl Bradford for the fourth berth at ILB. He moved into the lineup when Barrington went down in the opener and started the next 10 games, playing 478 snaps to 45 for Jake Ryan. The only deviation came in Game 8 at Carolina when Palmer was benched late in the first half. When Palmer was too hesitant and struggled in coverage, he never played another snap inside. He did finish second among ILBs in tackles per snap (one every 6.8) but also missed 13, second most on the defense. Grade: D.
Jake Ryan: Were the Packers able to find a starting ILB in the fourth round? The jury's still out, but at least they saw Ryan start seven games and have 329 snaps to make their off-season evaluation. Ryan tried hard, played intelligently and seemed tough enough. He also
was a step slow at times, played high and couldn't extricate himself from blockers. He missed too many tackles (nine) but also paced ILBs in tackles per snap (one every 5.8, more than twice the rate of Matthews). Grade: Cminus.
Joe Thomas: Needing a cover LB so Matthews could move outside in dime, the Packers plucked Thomas off the Cowboys' practice squad and began using him immediately. As their first true dime LB in some time, Thomas played 319 snaps to mixed reviews. He was the team's second-most effective blitzer with one pressure every seven rushes. A smart player, he handled a difficult scheme without glaring issue. And he missed only three tackles. He was off and on in coverage, at times a step or two late reacting. Grade: D. * Palmer was released this off-season.