GREEN BAY, Wis. – As expected, the Green Bay Packers’ No. 1 priority among this year’s free-agent linebackers is the Los Angeles Rams’ Cory Littleton.
Littleton has risen from undrafted free agent in 2016 to one of the most-coveted players, regardless of position, in this free-agent class.
In two seasons as a starter, Littleton has recorded 259 tackles, five interceptions and 22 passes defensed. Among linebackers, Littleton ranks second interceptions, first in passes defensed and sixth in tackles during that span. In those two seasons, Littleton has beaten Blake Martinez’s four-year totals in interceptions (three) and passes defensed (17). The Packers reportedly are interested in Joe Schobert, as well. Schobert’s four-year totals are six interceptions and 20 passes defensed.
“All options are on the table,” Rams general manager Les Snead said when asked about Littleton at the Scouting Combine this week. “We have a franchise and a transition available right now. There hasn’t been a collective bargaining agreement so I think at that point we’re still going through a lot of things, trying to determine the best strategy to get as many of our good football players who’ve helped us win a lot of games over the last three years back. That’s always impossible but having those tools in the tool box definitely allow you to try to accomplish that.”
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Littleton will not be cheap. Pro Football Focus projected a contract worth $12 million per season; an NFC executive, expecting just about every linebacker-needy team to focus on Littleton, predicted he’d get more than $13 million per season.
Nobody could have seen this from Littleton. As a senior at Washington, he had six sacks and 11 tackles for losses among 65 stops but broke up only two passes. At the 2016 Scouting Combine, he ran his 40 in 4.73 seconds and his 20-yard shuttle in 4.39 seconds. Both of those times were beaten by Martinez, who posted 4.71 and 4.20, respectively.
Littleton, however, has become a true X-factor. According to Pro Football Focus, the Rams ran dime personnel on a league-high 55.3 percent of their defensive snaps vs. the pass; the Packers’ dime rate of 27 percent ranked fourth, so he’d be an immediate fit for how defensive coordinator Mike Pettine likes to play. At 228 pounds, he’s never going to be a dominant run defender. PFF has a stat called run stops, which essentially measures impact tackles (such as a first-and-10 tackle that limits the play to 3 yards or less). In 2019, Martinez had 31 and ranked 35th among off-the-ball linebackers with a run-stop percentage of 8.1. Littleton had 23 and ranked 73rd with a run-stop percentage of 5.8.
Littleton earned second-team All-Pro in 2018. According to Sports Info Solutions, he missed four tackles last season; his broken-tackle rate of 2.9 percent was tops among all linebackers with at least 70 tackles. For comparison, Martinez missed 17 tackles for a missed-tackle rate of 9.9 percent and Schobert missed 18 for a missed-tackle rate of 11.7 percent.
“He’s kind of your Swiss Army Knife on defense. He covers tight ends and backs, and he’s a tremendous tackler,” Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth said recently.