PFF Insights: 2016 inside linebackers

On our most recent podcast, I talked about the possibility of going into 2017 with only two linebackers on the active roster, Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez. Obviously with players like Morgan Burnett, Josh Jones, and Clay Matthews, there’s more depth than just Jake and Blake.

Still, with the Packers seeming adoration for Joe Thomas, I thought I would take some time digging through the PFF elite stats to see if I can make my case a little better. Obviously writing an article that is intended to point out why Joe Thomas should be cut isn’t an article I’m going to enjoy, nonetheless it’s what I’m here to do.

I also mentioned that it was time to start using Clay Matthews more at inside linebacker. I’ll also explore that as it’s quite clear based on the data that Matthews is a very good inside linebacker and one of the teams worst outside linebackers.

For definitions on all the stats provided in the article, see here. To see these stats and more, be sure to check out PFF’s Elite and Edge subscriptions.


Joe Thomas is primarily used in passing situations, often being paired with Morgan Burnett. My assumption is that the Packers plan to continue this while leaving the Jake and Blake duo for base 3-4 formations… which they are never in.

Although Joe Thomas isn’t the worst option, it certainly isn’t the best. According to PFF’s coverage rankings, Jake Ryan is by far the best coverage linebacker on the team, and I’m including outside linebackers. In fact, of all inside linebackers with at least 100 coverage snaps, Ryan is ranked in the top 15 in the NFL.

Joe Thomas was ranked as the second best coverage linebacker ahead of Blake Martinez but not by any significant margin. If the assumption is that we are going to pair an ILB with a safety, the second linebacker to be used in coverage would be used primarily as a replacement if Jake Ryan were to get hurt, something Blake Martinez is capable of doing.

Furthermore, if Jake Ryan were to be injured, it’s certainly arguable that pairing Burnett with Josh Jones would be as good or better than either Martinez or Thomas. This all assumes Martinez isn’t going to take a leap in his second year.

Pass Rush

Although not thought of as a key component of an inside linebackers job, getting after the quarterback is always a useful commodity if you play to play for an NFL defense.

In this regard, we find much of the same with Thomas. He ranks 3rd among 4 linebackers in blitzing and is outside the top 64 for the NFL.

Clay Matthews, on the other hand, excels in this area. Ranking just outside the top 25, Matthews was the top pass rusher of all Packers playing inside linebackers. Blake Martinez was a close second.

Tackling Efficiency

There’s nothing more fundamental in football than blocking and tackling. In terms of the fundamentals, Thomas again ranked near the bottom coming in behind Matthews and Ryan but ahead of Martinez.

Once again, Thomas is ranked outside of the top 64 in the NFL. Matthews, on the other hand, once again led the team.

Run Stop Percentage

Last but certainly not least is PFF’s analysis of who the best run stoppers are. Once again, Joe Thomas proves to be below average coming in 3rd out of 4 players. Not surprisingly, the base ILB’s, Jake and Blake, are 1 and 2.

Thomas’ grade is just good enough to crack the top 50 in the NFL for inside linebackers.

In general, it’s possible to argue that Thomas is the most well rounded, not really coming in first or last in very many categories, but his skillset can almost always be better utilized by placing a different player on the field.

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About Ryan Schlipp

Metal forged, mettle tested, and medal earned as a Packers fan growing up in the heart of Chicago Bears country. Now a contributor to Packernet, it's my honor and privilege to represent the Green and Gold.

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