Green Bay rookie David Bakhtiari, a fourth-round pick from Colorado, is the man of the moment for the Packers. [Mike McGinnis/Getty Images]
Of all the season-ending injuries that have happened in NFL training camps so far this year, it’s relatively easy to argue that the loss of Green Bay Packers left tackle Bryan Bulaga to a torn ACL
is among the most devastating. No NFL quarterback was sacked more than Aaron Rodgers last season (51 times), and while Rodgers does hold onto the ball too long at times, 2012 left tackle Marshall Newhouse didn’t help matters by allowing 9.5 sacks, 11.5 hits and hurries, and racking up 22 total blown blocks. Newhouse was smartly moved to the right tackle spot for the 2013 campaign – but what were the Packers to do about their obvious pass-protection issues?
Enter fourth-round rookie David Bakhtiari from Colorado, who was lining up behind Bulaga on the left side in training camp. The Packers also decided to move right guard Josh Sitton, their best overall offensive lineman, to the left side to help protect Rodgers’ blind side, and Bakhtiari could very well be the beneficiary of that move.
So far in practices, Bakhtiari has impressed Rodgers and head coach Mike McCarthy with his quick feet and aggressive temperament. “He's got a ways to go, but he's got a chance," is how Rodgers recently put it, and that’s very astute. While there are things to be ironed out in his overall game – especially when it comes to pass protection – there’s no question that Bakhtiari comes to ring people up.
"The first day I did go against him and he rolled me back about 6 yards," defensive end Mike Daniels told Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel about Bakhtiari’s drive-blocking. "He's a long guy. Strong kid. You can tell he's been well-coached. He reminds me of Sitton. He's got that real nice, cool personality, but when he gets on the field he turns into a psychopath."
As Greg Cosell of NFL Films and ESPN’s NFL Matchup recently told me, Bakhtiari plays shorter than he is – he’s 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds, but he comes off the ball like a 6-foot-2 guy, because he tends to bend at the waist at times. However, I would also say that he plays heavier than he is – because he has an excellent understanding of leverage, he’s able to move people in ways you’d expect of a man 25 pounds heavier.
So, what are the Packers getting as their starting left tackle out of necessity? Let’s go to the tape.
Pros: Bakhtiari possesses a wide frame with a strong upper body and big legs. He understands how to use power in in-line situations. He will get his hands under his opponent’s pads and lock on very well, driving the defender back. Has a nasty demeanor (in a good way) and will follow his man to the conclusion of the play. Enjoys the power side of the game – that much is clearly evident. Intelligent enough to read twists and stunts and will hand off in zone schemes at the line. Excels in slide protection when he’s able to get some momentum rolling to either side. Pinches inside with authority in run-blocking situations. Has the strength to maul defenders – can push them where he wants them to go in order to open rushing lanes. As long as he can keep his feet to the target, Bakhtiari can overcome technical lapses due to his outstanding functional strength.
Cons: At this point in his career, Bakhtiari isn’t what I would call a functional blocker in space – he tends to over-run plays at the second level and will lose defenders when he’s supposed to clamp them off away from the line. In pass protection, Bakhtiari’s kick-slide is a work in progress; he’s a bit herky-jerky and needs to be smoother as he’s dropping back to handle speed rushers all the way through his arc. As a result, he will lose quicker pass-rushers on the back end of the pocket. Has the speed and agility to pull, but he occasionally gets lost in the wash. In general, he needs to be more directed with his efforts and more compact in his technique. Shows some vulnerability to foot-fakes and inside counters. Will let defenders off the hook after initial contact when he gets sloppy with his hands. Has a tendency to hold when he should maintain a hand-strike to keep opponents at bay as they re-direct.
Conclusion: Right now, Bakhtiari has an armload of athletic potential, and a need to put the finer points of the game together. It’s easy to see why McCarthy and Rodgers are impressed with him, though. While he does appear to have some limitations regarding second-level acceleration and re-direction ability, he’s a tough, ballsy, high-effort player with enough on the ball to make an impact on teammates at any level. As it was with Solder, Bakhtiari will benefit enormously from an NFL conditioning program, and the kind of coaching one only gets at this level. I believe he has the athletic temperament to surprise early on, and he may turn into a fourth-round steal sooner than anyone expected.
David Stewart, Tennessee Titans