My fourth installment of the Green Bay Packers Off-Season Positional Review focuses on the offensive line group.
Much like the wide receiver room, the Packers O-line will probably have a new face or two in the fold, will return a couple of star players and hopefully will see some growth as well.
David Bakhtiari LT:
Sometimes life ain’t fair.
It’s plausible, if not likely that the loss of David Bakhtiari to a torn ACL on the cusp of the 2020 playoffs cost the Packers at least one trip to the Super Bowl if not two.
If that doesn’t underscore the importance of an elite blindside blocker, I’m not sure what does.
I had grown accustomed to players springing back from ACL injuries, routinely beating their predicted timelines.
It’s very clear that I’m not an orthopedic surgeon!
All Packers fans had some inkling that all was not well with Bakhtiari last season, but until his interview with Cheesehead TV’s Aaron Nagler it was unknown that he’d suffered something more sinister than a run-of-the-mill ACL tear and further endured surgical complications on his road back.
The past is the past and what I’m concerned with is will the David Bakhtiari of old show up come training camp 2022.
Stay tuned for more on that.
It’s easy to forget when discussing how the Packers can improve the 2022 roster that just by having a healthy David Bakhtiari patrolling the left side they’ve improved considerably.
Elgton Jenkins LG:
Speaking of ACLs…
The addition of a healthy David Bakhtiari will most certainly help the o-line, but the Packers will have to play the waiting game once again as Elgton Jenkins returns from his own ACL injury suffered week 11 against the Minnesota Vikings.
It’s really incredible what the Packers were able to do with a patchwork offensive line in 2021. Injuries to your top-two offensive lineman (arguably two of the top 10-12 o-line players period)
Credit and then some due to Adam Stenavich to go along with his well deserved Offensive Coordinator promotion.
The expectation of course is that Jenkins will begin the season on the PUP-list and hopefully be eased back in to a spot by mid-season. But as we saw with Bakhtiari, that’s far from a guarantee.
Obviously, the likely starting Left Guard will be Jon Runyan Jr. who manned the post for the majority of 2021.
It’s too early to say where Jenkins will slot-in once healthy, but he’s about the only lineman in the league that can excel at all five o-line positions. Just an incredible piece to have.
I think Jenkins will become the Packers right tackle once healthy.
Well wishes and quick healing to Elgton.
Josh Meyers C:
I promise we’ll get to the guys who weren’t bitten by the injury bug.
Unfortunately for the massive center out of Ohio State it was a frustrating season in and out of the lineup.
Being a rookie center with the NFL’s most demanding quarterback’s hands up your backside is a tall enough task.
Trying to build rapport and trust while sitting on the sidelines is impossible.
In spite of it all, Meyers faired well enough when he was available. Utilizing his 6-5, 310+ pound frame to re-route interior defensive lineman and improving communication with stunts and blitz pick-ups as the season went on.
Meyers measurables are eye-popping and the smart money is that he will continue to learn from the great players and coaches around him. Just need some good fortune in the health department.
Lucas Patrick RG:
It’s hard not to like Lucas Patrick.
Her personifies the grit and determination of the Packers organization. Handed nothing and worked his tail off for every opportunity he’s gotten.
Patrick is relatively undersized and not quite as athletic as some of his o-line mates, but he’s technically sound, reliable and durable.
He’s started 34 games over his Packers tenure, and I firmly believe that his consistency is one of the reasons that the Packers offensive line rarely misses a beat when injury strikes.
In 2021 at 28 years old Patrick finished up the last year of his three year contract extension, making him an unrestricted free agent when the NFL’s new league year begins on March 16th.
The question is, does another NFL team view Patrick as a starter and hand him a market value contract, or do the Packers have the inside track and bring back Patrick at a discount as their do-it-all interior swing man.
I think re-signing Lucas Patrick is more of a priority than people may think. Especially given the injury concerns with Elgton Jenkins and the assumption that other players will miss time throughout the year.
Lucas is also a well-liked player and one that can play a key leadership role with a young interior line group.
Billy Turner RT:
Billy Turner was signed as part of Brian Gutekunst’s monster 2019 free agency class to a 4-year, $28 million deal.
Turner initially slotted in at right guard, but moved to the right tackle spot following the departure of Bryan Bulaga after the 2019 season.
He was initially the least impressive of the massive free agent class, but really blossomed once he made the move to right tackle.
Turner enters the 2022 season on the last (and most expensive) year of his contract with a cap number of $9.17 million.
I believe that Turner will end up being a cap casualty this off-season for three reasons.
- The emergence of Yosh Nijman. Nijman filled in better than anyone could have hoped as the third string left tackle and has earned himself a top back-up job if not a starting role.
- Turner will be 31 years old on October 17th and while that’s not ancient for an offensive lineman, Turner has only played a full slate of games once in his career.
- The Packers can save $4.25 million in precious cap space by cutting him outright
There is an outside chance that Turner’s contract could be restructured or that he takes a pay cut, but I think the most likely scenario finds him starting for another team with an open spot and money to burn.
Jon Runyan Jr. LG:
Hello left guard of the current and future, Jon Runyan Jr.
JRJ is another great Packers story. NFL bloodlines with a father (Jon Runyan Sr.) who played 14 seasons making a Pro Bowl and All-Pro team.
A 6th round pick, Runyan was the first Packers OL to be drafted in the 6th or later since Mark Tauscher and go-on to play in all 16 games his rookie season.
Then he snagged himself a starting role.
Runyan is just another in a long line of above average left guards. Following names like Wahle, Lang, Sitton & Jenkins.
Royce Newman RG:
Royce Newman was selected in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL draft.
Newman was another guy who played all over the line in college at Ole Miss with some thought that he could potentially play some right tackle in the NFL.
Much like Josh Meyers, Newman snagged a starting job right away and had a bit of a rollercoaster season.
Newman made 16 starts, ultimately ceding his starting right guard role to Lucas Patrick in week 18 against the Lion’s and again in the NFC divisional playoff round.
He had challenges with blocking assignments and communication, and also his fair share of penalties (3 holding calls and two false starts).
But as the season wore on, Newman made marked improvements to his game.
I think it’s likely that Newman once again slots in as the starting right guard, but it’s not a guarantee. Newman will be given every opportunity to take the starting gig, but he’ll have to continue to show the late season progress he made wasn’t a fluke.
Yosh Nijman LT:
Yosh Nijman was easily the most captivating storyline for the Packers 2021 offensive line group.
Nijman stepped into the starting lineup in week 3 against the 49ers after Elgton Jenkins was ruled out.
All Nijman did was give up a total of zero pressures against one of the NFL’s most formidable pass rushers in Nick Bosa.
That’s a trial by fire, and Nijman came out unscathed.
Yosh went on to start 8 games for the Packers in the regular season, giving up 3 sacks and being called for 3 penalties over almost 600 snaps.
An argument can be made that Yosh Nijman should have started the Packers Divisional Round matchup at left tackle against the 49ers instead of Billy Turner. We’ll never know.
The short is, Nijman has earned more playing time.
It’s been a long and winding road for Yosh as an undrafted free agent in 2019, but you can now see why the Packers have kept him along for the ride.
Nijman has the prototypical NFL tackle frame at 6-7, 314 lbs and showed off his jaw-dropping athleticism by virtue of his 98th percentile Relative Athletic Score
I think that the Packers will utilize the 26 year old Nijman, a restricted free agent, as their starting right tackle while Elgton Jenkins is out and then move him to a swing-role when Jenkins is at full strength.
What a great luxury to have.
Dennis Kelly RT:
Dennis Kelly’s greatest contribution to the Packers is probably looking like David Bakhtiari’s big brother.
That’s not entirely true, but it was funny playing the game of “Wait is that Bakhtiari working on the sideline during camp or was it Dennis Kelly?”
Kelly came to the Packers last off-season after 8 seasons between the Eagles and Titans.
He’s another monster of a human checking in at 6-8, 321 lbs.
A fifth round pick by the Eagles in 2012 and aside from starting 16 games for the 2020 Titans, a career backup.
Kelly filled in admirably during the regular season, making four starts at right tackle in place of the injured Billy Turner.
Dennis Kelly’s limitations were exposed at the very worst moment in his start against the 49ers in the playoffs.
It was rumored that Kelly was looking to hang it up after the 2020 season, but came to the Packers in search of a Super Bowl ring.
It’s unfortunate that he came up empty in his championship hunt because as an unrestricted free agent his time with the Packers is likely over.
The Packers have an embarrassment of riches in the offensive line room. If the 2022 season goes anything like the ’21 version, they’ll need to cash in every last penny.
I’m expecting the Packers to have a healthy David Bakhtiari, even better interior line play and eventually Elgton Jenkins back to solidify things.
It’s not impossible that with continuity and health that the Packers offensive line is what propels them to their next Super Bowl birth.
You can follow Adam on twitter at @adamjcarlson28.