Linebacker Jake Ryan was one of those prospects more rumored to be on the Green Bay Packers’ radar entering this past draft. A captain at Michigan, Ryan was one who was pegged as a guy who could provide a lot of value in the middle rounds. Alas, he was there for the taking in the fourth round and the Green Bay Packers made it official.
Ryan projects as an inside linebacker, which is a position of great need for the Packers. But asking a fourth-rounder to jump in and play at a starting level is always a bit of a reach. It’s no accident that Ryan was a captain for the Wolverines. He’s a smart, instinctive player who has a lot of the tools and characteristics that have made previous pro players very successful. He doesn’t have blazing speed and he’s likely far from a full understanding of the team’s defense, but there’s enough there that the Packers likely have Ryan penciled in as a starter in 2015.
Earlier this week, Ryan appeared on The Big Show with Bill Michaels and spoke about how coming to Green Bay is a dream come true for him. Having come from Michigan and all of the tradition that is there, he relates to what Green Bay offers on Sunday’s and he’s excited to experience it. When Michaels asked him how he would grade himself, he balked at the question and said he’s just focused on learning more every day and being ready to play when the pads come on.
The Packers have to be crossing their fingers that Ryan can overachieve a bit for a fourth rounder. If he is able to secure a starting spot, presumably next to Sam Barrington, that would allow the Packers to use Clay Matthews on the outside more often. It’s no secret that Matthews will spend time on the inside again this season, at least early on. After his move inside in 2014, the Packers quickly improved on their run defense and in managing the middle of the field.
While Matthews’ versatility is surely something the Packers are glad to have in their back pocket, he is paid to be and is best suited as an outside linebacker. If Ryan is able to contribute at a high level, the Packers defense will have gotten a huge boost, and one that could elevate their stature in 2015. Last year when it was Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk manning the middle, teams picked apart what neither could do: shed blocks and cover. When Hawk was hurt, he was virtually ineffective and on the field mostly for his ability to line other guys up and call the defense. When the liability became too much, Matthews made the move. What a luxury it would be if Green Bay could move Matthews inside when they wanted to rather than when they had to?
With Julius Peppers back and assuming that he can provide a similar output to last year’s and with Matthews focusing on getting after the passer, the Packers could see a resurgence in their defense, similar to what they did in 2009, after a tough season the year prior. Ryan strikes me as the type of player who is only going to get better as the season wears on. He has the makings of a quick study and one who could quickly establish himself as one of the staples of the Packers defense for seasons to come. It may not happen right away and we very well could see Matthews starting on the inside in week one, but I foresee Ryan’s role growing quickly.
If the Packers can improve their defense that nearly helped them win the NFC championship game in Seattle last year and couple it with the existing offense, the sky is the limit for this Green Bay team.
Of course, injuries can change everything and Ryan has had a few big ones in his past. He tore his ACL in a spring practice in early 2013 but was back on the field seven months later. Ryan also had a leg injury in 2012 and has had shoulder surgery in the past as well. Former Wisconsin Badger and San Francisco 49er Chris Borland had shoulder problems during his college days and it was ultimately concussions that led to his stunning retirement just over a month ago. It’s a stark reminder that we have to be cautious with players coming in with injury histories and set our expectations accordingly.
As the team prepares for their organized team activities later this month, gear up to hear Ryan’s name a lot among the media coverage of the team. If there is one player from this draft that the Packers are counting on to give them everything he can be right now, it’s all 6’3″, 240 pounds of him. The quest begins in just a few short days.——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: