GREEN BAY, Wis. – Green Bay Packers training camp starts on July 27, with the first practice on July 28. Our Training Camp Countdown series continues with the fifth of our positional previews, the offensive line.
Packers Offensive Line Depth Chart Quick Reads
LT David Bakhtiari: Broken ribs and a torn ACL limited Bakhtiari to less than 75 percent playing time in 2020. When he was on the field, he was typically excellent to once again earn All-Pro honors. Pro Football Focus charged him with one sack and nine total pressures. His pressure rate was 2.02 percent, down sharply from 4.86 in 2019. Among offensive tackles, he ranked second in PFF’s pass-blocking efficiency, which measures sacks, hits and hurries per pass-protecting snap. He’s not just a great pass protector but a superb run blocker, making him arguably the best offensive tackle in the business. The Packers probably would have gone to the Super Bowl had Bakhtiari been healthy for the NFC Championship Game.
LG Elgton Jenkins: After earning all-rookie honors last year, Jenkins took the next step with a sensational second season. Pro Football Focus charged him with one sack – the only one in his career. Among all guards who played 50 percent of the passing-game snaps, he ranked second in PFF’s pass-blocking efficiency. He could start at all five positions and is a viable option at left tackle if Bakhtiari isn’t a go for Week 1.
C Josh Myers: With All-Pro Corey Linsley departing in free agency, the Packers’ second-round pick jumped right into the starter’s role during the offseason practices. In seven games last season at Ohio State, Pro Football Focus charged Myers with two sacks, one hit and 11 total pressures. He was not penalized in his two years in the starting lineup. At 6-foot-5 1/4, he is unusually tall for a center.
RG Lucas Patrick: When Lane Taylor went down in the opener, the door was open for Patrick to become a full-time starter for the first time. He was generally up to the task. Of the 57 guards to play at least 50 percent of the passing-game snaps, Patrick ranked third in PFF’s pass-blocking efficiency. A no-nonsense tough guy, he added a feisty element to the running game.
RT Billy Turner: Turner wasn’t very good at right guard in 2019 but he was quite good at right tackle in 2020. Of the 55 offensive tackles to play at least 50 percent of the passing-game snaps, Turner ranked 25th in PFF’s pass-blocking efficiency. He allowed two sacks and 25 total pressures, sharp reductions over the year before. And he was much better as a run blocker. As is the case with Jenkins, Turner’s versatility gives Green Bay options should injuries strike.
G Jon Runyan: Runyan, a two-time all-Big Ten left tackle and sixth-round pick last year, saw significant action in four games as a rookie – including a combined 131 snaps in Game 8 at San Francisco, Game 10 at Indianapolis and Game 11 vs. Chicago. With no sacks or hits allowed in 81 pass-protecting snaps, he flashed enough quality play in those games to perhaps challenge for a starting job this year.
G/T Royce Newman: A fourth-round pick out of Ole Miss, Newman started all 12 games at left guard in 2019 and all 10 games at right tackle in 2020. Statistically, he was much better at guard than at tackle, with two sacks, five quarterback hits and 25 total pressures at right tackle vs. one sack, one hit and 10 total pressures at guard. He played guard and tackle during the offseason practices.
G/T Ben Braden: Braden entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2017 but didn’t play his first offensive snaps until 2020 – four meaningless snaps at the end of a blowout win at San Francisco. A guard by trade, he took a lot of snaps at left tackle during the offseason with Bakhtiari not available. He’s got the physical tools to play tackle, though, at 6-foot-6 1/4 and with the requisite 34-inch arms.
G/T Cole Van Lanen: Van Lanen started 18 games at left tackle during his final two seasons at Wisconsin, including 13 games in 2019, when he was second-team all-Big Ten, and five games in 2020, when he was first-team all-conference. He helped pave the way for Jonathan Taylor’s two seasons of 2,000-plus rushing yards. A sixth-round pick this year, he played guard and tackle during the offseason practices.
G Simon Stepaniak: After starting 23 consecutive games at Indiana in 2018 and 2019, Stepaniak suffered a torn ACL during the Hoosiers’ prep for the Gator Bowl. Thus, the 2020 sixth-round pick didn’t play as a rookie. Stepaniak is a powerful man who could be in the mix at right guard. That’s where he started 30 games at Indiana. He allowed only one sack during his senior season.
T Yosh Nijman: Nijman has rare traits and a towering frame that seemingly were made to play offensive tackle. At the 2019 Scouting Combine, he measured 6-foot-6 7/8 and 324 pounds with 34-inch arms. He ran his 40 in 4.88 seconds with a rocket-fast 20-yard shuttle time of 4.50 seconds. That shuttle time is elite, which is why it was a surprise the three-year college starter wasn’t drafted as even a traits-based Hail Mary at a vital position. He played 14 garbage-time snaps on offense last year.
G Zack Johnson: At North Dakota State, Johnson was a second-team FCS All-American right tackle as a junior in 2018 and a first-team All-American at right guard as a senior. An undrafted free agent last season, Johnson finished strong at training camp but failed to make the roster. He spent the season on the practice squad and didn’t play in any games.
C Jake Hanson: A sixth-round pick in 2020, Hanson was Oregon’s four-year starting center. He wasn’t nearly good enough to win a spot on the roster as a rookie, and he was immediately bypassed by second-round rookie Myers on the 2021 depth chart. Hanson tested horribly at the 2020 Scouting Combine and always seemed a poor fit for Green Bay’s zone scheme.
G/T Coy Cronk: Cronk started 40 consecutive games at left tackle for Indiana before suffering a broken ankle four games into the 2019 season. He redshirted, transferred to Iowa and won the job at right tackle in 2020. The ankle wasn’t quite right, though, and he was shut down after the first two games. Then, he tested positive for COVID before Iowa’s pro day. One scout called Cronk the “steal” of undrafted free agency.
G Jacob Capra: The undrafted rookie spent his first three seasons at Oregon alongside Packers center Jake Hanson. Having earned his degree and in search of a full-time starting job, he transferred to San Diego State for the 2019 season, when younger brother Joey was redshirting as a freshman. During that first season, the elder Capra started four games at left tackle and two at right tackle. In 2020, he settled in at left guard and didn’t allow a sack.
G Jon Dietzen: An undrafted rookie, Dietzen retired from football following the 2018 season but returned to the Badgers in 2020. “I know for a lot of people, they’re off their boards right there just for injury concerns, but he started at right guard, left guard and left tackle for us,” Wisconsin offensive line coach Joe Rudolph said. “Really did a hell of a job this season. His career would back it up.”
Big Story Lines on Offensive Line
One: Other than Aaron Rodgers’ future, there isn’t a bigger question on the team than the readiness of Bakhtiari’s knee. While Turner and Jenkins aren’t bad options, Bakhtiari is practically irreplaceable because he’s an elite player at a premium position. Obviously, Game 1 of the regular season is more important than Practice 1 of training camp.
“I’m not going to put any timetable,” he said last month. “Stack my days, have that turn to weeks, weeks to months, months to years. I have no idea. This is my first time going through this, so I’m just going to attack every day, try to hit every benchmark I can and, once Doc can check me off, I can check myself. When I can go out there and not only perform and protect myself but perform at the level that the Packers need me to, I think that’s where you’ll see me return, on that date.”
Two: There’s more to playing center than blocking the guy in front of you. The center is the quarterback of the offensive line. Obviously, from an experience perspective, the gulf between Linsley and Myers is infinite. Having Rodgers at quarterback would mitigate some of that. Having a first-time starting quarterback (Jordan Love) and a rookie starting center probably would put opposing defensive coordinators in attack mode.
“Once you get a rookie like Josh, you’ve got to basically start back from ground zero,” offensive line coach Adam Stenavich said. “Corey, nice to have a veteran like that, you can never replace experience, but you build your way up as fast as you can go depending on how fast they pick up the scheme and the techniques and all that stuff. The good news with Josh is he’s played at a big-time program, very experienced guy in a lot of big games in college, so he’s able to handle a lot of things mentally. It’s just a matter of getting him reps.”
Three: Will there be a competition at right guard and how would it be conducted? Patrick played well last season but if the Packers are desperate for cap space, they could find almost $2 million by moving on. There are lot of potential contenders with Runyan, Stepaniak, Braden, Newman and Van Lanen. That’s a lot of players to give first-team snaps.
Four: Lack of depth at offensive tackle bit the Packers at the worst possible time in 2020. With Turner playing for Bakhtiari at left tackle and worn-down veteran Rick Wagner subbing in at right tackle, the Packers’ tackles gave up five sacks in the NFC Championship Game. Beyond Bakhtiari and Turner, the only pure tackle on the roster is Nijman. There are lot of guard/tackle combos, including rookies Newman and Van Lanen. Is there anyone on the bench capable of playing tackle at a winning level, or would the Packers have to play musical chairs by moving Jenkins and sliding in someone to play left guard?
Five: Stenavich isn’t one to hand out compliments like candy on Halloween. So, it was perhaps noteworthy when he said Braden is “going to compete for a starting job at guard or tackle.” As noted earlier, in four seasons in the NFL, he hasn’t played an important snap on offense. So, for a team that has invested six draft picks on the offensive line in the past three drafts, Braden suddenly is in the mix to start? That seems far-fetched but, to state the obvious, Stenavich knows a bit more about evaluating offensive linemen than a writer.
Six: The battles for roster spots will be fierce. There are 16 blockers on the roster, including the aforementioned six recent draft picks. Perhaps the team will take nine linemen into the regular season.
Offensive line coach Adam Stenavich says
On the versatility of Jenkins
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“He’s a rare guy in this league, a guy that has the athleticism to play on the edge. Usually you get your centers and guards, they don’t have that combination of length and athleticism to go out at tackle and compete with the good edge rushers out there, but Elgton has those tools. He has the size, he’s got the length, so he’s a very versatile guy, a very intelligent player. You can move him around and the game’s not too big for him. He understands everything. Extremely football-smart. Moving him out to tackle, it might not be his absolute best position but he’s still a very, very good tackle.”