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Packers' Player Grades and Future: Linebackers

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

This Packers' season is over, but the next one is just around the corner. Soon, it will be the combine, then the draft, and before you know it training camp will begin. So, I am going to try to grade the Packers for how they did this season individually, and then try and predict the future on what the line might look like in the future.  Today, I will be doing the inside and outside linebackers.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS

Jake Ryan: B
Jake Ryan was just an average player this year, and he did his job to about what we expected him to.  He would have led the team in tackles had he played every game, but ended up second in only 14 games with 10 starts.  He also had three pass deflections.  Does Ryan have the promise to eventually become someone like AJ Hawk was for the Packers?  He probably could, but AJ Hawk was underwhelming for many years.  Ultimately, he did his job about as well as was expected.
Blake Martinez: B-
He started only nine games this season due to his injuries, and was not on the field as long as we needed.  He was the fifth leading tackler on the team, had one interception and five pass deflections.  He was one of the better rookies on the team, and I think he could become one of our future pieces.  I still think he needs work on his size and play-making, but at this moment he was fine when he was out there.
Joe Thomas: B+
I thought Joe Thomas might have been our best inside linebacker this season, he played in every game, was actually just as good in coverage as our corners (LOL), and was fourth in tackles.  Thomas also had an interception and six pass deflections, and seemed to do more positive than negative.  He's one of the better undrafted finds Ted Thompson has had, and I hope he becomes a part of the future.  
Jordan Tripp: Incomplete
Tripp was signed from the Jacksonville Jaguars in the latter part of the season and only really saw action on special teams.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS
Clay Matthews: C+
Why do all of the inside linebackers have better grades than Clay Matthews?  Because Clay Matthews has a bigger role and higher expectations from me, you, and everybody else, therefore he is graded harsher.  He spent a good portion of the year with that shoulder injury, so that hurts him, and had only five sacks and a fumble recovery.  Part of that was injury, but this is due to his performance, and if he is "healthy" enough to be out there, he is healthy enough to be graded.  Hopefully Clay isn't on the downside of his career.
Nick Perry: A
I think Perry was a Pro Bowl alternate, and he showed the Packers why they should continue to believe in him.  52 tackles, a career high 11 sacks, a couple pass deflections, and he was hurt too.  His hand had a club on it the second half of the season, and he managed to get three of those sacks after his return from injury.  Nick Perry might be who they need to re-sign the most this offseason.
Julius Peppers: A-
For a 36 year old, Julius Peppers was all world.  As essentially a situational pass rusher for the first 10 games, he managed to come up with 7.5 sacks and caused two fumbles during the regular season.  Every game he seemed to make at least one play with a large impact on the game, and I wouldn't mind bringing him back for next season.  Due to his age, he will have to take a pay cut, but I don't seem him going anywhere else this late in his career.
Kyler Fackrell: B
Fackrell really wasn't expected to play that much this season, and as it stands right now, he is in line to be the starting outside linebacker opposite Clay Matthews.  He had two sacks in limited playing time and forced a fumble, but other than that he wasn't out there too much.  He also wasn't expected to be.  He gets a B for doing what was expected.
Jayrone Elliott: B-
Ever since that unbelievable preseason he had a few years ago, I have expected a breakthrough from Elliott the past few seasons.  It just hasn't happened, and for that I'm a little disappointed.  That said, he did what was expected, being fifth on the depth chart (sixth if you count DE/OLB Datone Jones, who I included in the defensive line) and is a good special teams guy.  I'm just disappointed he hasn't done more as far as sack totals go.
Reggie Gilbert and Derrick Matthews: Incomplete
I'm not sure if these were some of the practice squad the Packers added to the roster or if they ended the season on the team.  I also don't know who plays inside or outside, and I don't really care.  They get an incomplete grade from me.

I think the Packers' offseason with the linebacker position depends on what Nick Perry does.  I think we have to re-sign him, because Clay Matthews, Kyler Fackrell and a presumed draft pick won't cut it.  I wouldn't mind a year of Julius Peppers on a cheap contract either.  Jayrone Elliott is a free agent too, and he wouldn't be much more than the minimum.  For inside linebackers, Joe Thomas is a free agent, and I think we should bring him back.  He had a good season.  Jordan Tripp is also a free agent for the Packers.
The Packers should add more depth to both positions whether they bring back these guys or not, and I think the inside linebackers need help more.  The free agent market has a pretty good group that won't cost too much compared to the outside linebackers.  As far as the draft, the front seven is the strength of the draft, and if we don't take a corner right away, we need to take a linebacker.  Players like TJ Watt and Ryan Anderson are second round outside linebackers, and Raekwon McMillan is the best option for inside backers.

FREE AGENTS: Nick Perry, Julius Peppers, Jayrone Elliott, Joe Thomas, Jordan Tripp

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