Ranking the Packers (No. 4): David Bakhtiari
GREEN BAY, Wis. – In a tradition that stretches more than a decade, here is our annual ranking of the 90 players on the Green Bay Packers’ roster. This isn’t merely a look at the best players. Rather, it’s a formula that combines talent, salary, importance of the position, depth at the position and, for young players, draft positioning. More than the ranking, we hope you learn a little something about every player on the roster.
No. 4: LT David Bakhtiari (6-4, 310, eighth season, Colorado)
Call it the circle of NFL life.
In 2013, a young fourth-round pick name David Bakhtiari replaced injured Bryan Bulaga at left tackle and started all 16 games. He not only was the youngest starter on the offensive line but one of youngest starting offensive linemen in the NFL.
At age 28, Bakhtiari is in the prime of his career but he’s now the longest-tenured lineman on the team. Longtime starters T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton played elsewhere before retiring, and Bulaga signed with the Chargers this offseason.
It’s Bakhtiari’s line, and it’s in good hands in terms of leading by word and leading by action.
“I told Bryan right away when he became the elder statesman in the room, I let him know, ‘Look, I’m going to be your co-captain. At the end of the day, I’m going to defer to you. Whatever you say, I’m going to back up because I just believe that there was a hierarchy and there’s a status of being the eldest, and I don’t want for you to even feel like I would be stepping on your toes,’” Bakhtiari said during an offseason Zoom call. “That dynamic with Bryan being gone, it’s me and Lane are the two oldest and two longest-tenured Packer players in the offensive line room. I guess I get to do more of what I want and no one can tell me what to do.
“I think I’ll keep my way of how I’ve led. I don’t think there is one right way or wrong way. The best way to lead is through your own personality because the way that you choose to lead that’s genuine comes across and gets absorbed the best. Whenever you try to over-stretch who you are to assume that leadership role, I think it gets discredited. I think I’m just going to continue doing how I’m doing it.”
A big man with a big game and big personality, Bakhtiari might be the gold standard among today’s left tackles. In 2019, Bakhtiari collected his fourth consecutive All-Pro honor and was voted to the Pro Bowl for the first time. It wasn’t his best season by his lofty standards but he found his stride down the stretch. Pro Football Focus charged him with six pressures in the regular-season game against San Francisco. In the last seven games, including playoffs, PFF charged him with seven pressures, including zero in the rematch vs. the 49ers.
Similarly, his six holding penalties were only one less than the combined total the past three years and his 12 total penalties were a career high, but he played mostly mistake-free football as the season progressed. All 12 penalties came during the first 12 games, and he was hit with only one hold during the second half of the season.
“That just really comes down to thinking more about the concepts,” he said. “Just being new to a bunch of new things that are going on, I think I kind of situated that and ironed that out. When it comes to holding, going into my eighth season, holding is very arbitrary. It really depends on the ref. So, different seasons, the penalties go up and down based on the holding. I’m going to block the way that I’ve blocked that’s made me successful that I’ve done. And I know they want to put an emphasis on it at certain points. Especially going into last year, I know that was an emphasis. And then once that kind of died down, the penalties died down on my end. It wasn’t a change of anything I was doing technique-wise.”
Bakhtiari is entering his final season under contract, with his cap number of $14.7 million ranking fourth among left tackles. With nothing resembling a developmental offensive tackle on the roster, he would seem to be a prime target for an in-season contract extension. The COVID-19 pandemic, with reduced income streams and declining salary caps, could make those negotiations tricky.
“I’m open to anything,” he said in a conversation taking place before the revised CBA and shrinking salary caps were approved. “But, at the end of the day, I look to how I did in 16 (games). I get paid to play. I’m the left tackle and I’m under contract for another season and that’s what I’m focused on. Whatever the organization decides they want to do moving forward with me, we can have that conversation when it’s there.”
Why he’s so important: Imagine going into a game against Green Bay’s defense, unsure if your left tackle can avoid being eaten alive and your quarterback devoured for dessert by Za’Darius Smith. The Packers, of course, have no such concerns with Bakhtiari. Not only is he a superb blind-side pass protector but he’s transformed himself into an excellent run blocker. He’s gotten stronger with age and his athleticism made him an easy fit in coach Matt LaFleur’s zone-based running game. According to Sports Info Solutions, he allowed only two stuffs (a tackle at or behind the line on a running play).
“I’ve always kind of had a young spirit,” he said of his future. “Definitely a ball of energy, I think that’s with my ADHD. So, I feel good. I’m still having fun doing what I do, waking up every morning, training in the offseason. I enjoy the banter with the guys. At the end of the day, I do like imposing my will when I get the opportunity to play football. So, as long as that fire is still there and my body and my mind allows me to, I want to play and I want to play at a high level for a while. It’s been fun. It’s hard to say, especially when you’re really beat up, but there are times that it does suck. But, at the end of the day, I love what I do. I definitely want to play for a while longer.”