At the 2021 NFL Draft in April, Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst addressed pressing needs across the board with his first few picks, going with a cornerback, center, and wide receiver with his first three picks. While the selections of Eric Stokes in the first round and Amari Rodgers in the third might pay off immediately, it’s Gutekunst’s work in adding depth along the offensive line that will have the most benefit once they get into the heart of the season.
Having only spent a few days with him, Aaron Rodgers was already effusive in his praise for rookie second-round pick Josh Myers, who is presumably the leader in the clubhouse to be the starting center in Week 1. Not only is that his natural position, but it allows Elgton Jenkins to operate at guard, the position at which he’s developed into an All-Pro-caliber player in just two short seasons.
According to reports, Myers has been receiving all of the first-team reps at center and has already established a rapport with his MVP signal caller.
“He’s very comfortable with the system, comfortable in his own skin,” Rodgers told former teammate James Jones, now of the NFL Network. “And he’s a big fella. He’s probably the biggest center I’ve had in front of me. I like the way he’s stepped in and controlled the huddle and the calls the first four days.”
The bigger point here is this: If he looks this good now, imagine how good he’ll look at the end of the season?
Offensive line, perhaps more so than any other unit on the team, relies on chemistry and continuity. The caveat, as always, is whether or not the group can stay healthy (see the David Bakhtiari ACL injury last season), but it appears that this unit has all the pieces to be exactly what it needs to be come playoff time.
Whether or not Bahktiari returns in September or December, the lens that this offensive line should be viewed through is how they’re going to look in January. Let’s go ahead and envision the Packers’ Week 17 game against the Minnesota Vikings. It’s a primetime game at Lambeau Field. The snow is gently falling from the heavens above Green Bay, and the two NFC North rivals are separated by one game in the standings, with the winner set to win the division and earn a home game in the playoffs.
If all goes according the plan, the Packers will be able to roll out a kick-ass offensive line of Bakhtiari, Jenkins, Myers, Lucas Patrick, and Billy Turner, creating plenty of room for Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon to run roughshod on the Vikings’ defense, with Aaron Rodgers delivering a knockout blow to Davante Adams to seal the win. It’s a plausible scenario, but how do we get there?
First, this scenario relies on Josh Myers being everything the Packers expected when they spent that second-round pick on him. He might not be the All-Pro that Corey Linsley was at center, but if Myers is impressing in the first week of August, there’s no reason to think that with five more months of NFL experience, he couldn’t be a force in the center of the line.
The selection of Myers, and Royce Newman in the fourth round, help give Green Bay the depth it will need to continue to play at a high level once the bumps and bruises that accumulate during an NFL season start to show. As long as they remain bumps and not ACL tears, the Packers’ line will be as solid as it gets come January.
Lucas Patrick and Billy Turner have proven to be capable on the right side of the offense, and the addition of free-agent Dennis Kelly is added insurance at the tackle position. Mix in eager-to-contribute players like Jon Runyan and rookie wildcards like Newman and even Cole Van Lanen, and the unit should be able to tread water, at the very least, until Bakhtiari returns. Playing offensive line is a war of attrition in the NFL, and Green Bay is built just for that.
When David Bakhtiari is back to 100%, it’s tough to imagine a better one-two punch on the offensive line than Bakhtiari at left tackle and Elgton Jenkins at left guard. If you recall, just last postseason Jenkins more than held his own against the incomparable Aaron Donald in Green Bay’s playoff win over the Los Angeles Rams. With Rodgers’ blind side as secure as can be, the rest of the offense should be able to operate cleanly and allow the Packers to approach their ceiling.
Playing next to Jenkins that day at left tackle? Billy Turner, filling in for the Bahktiari following the star’s knee injury. Turner knows that Week 1 isn’t the be-all-end-all for this team, and this unit in particular.
“I learned a long time ago that I cannot approach any season with expectations of playing any position,” Turner said after Monday’s practice, according to Jason Wilde. “It’s the same year-in and year-out. Wherever I’m at Day 1 of training camp might not be where I’m at Day 2 and it might not be where I’m at the end of training camp, the middle of the season or the end of the year. You just never know. You’ve always got to be ready to switch positions.”
The early reports out of training camp are encouraging, but what is set to help make the Packers elite is how this unit could look in five months. If Bakhtiari was healthy against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season, Green Bay could have been hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. The health and development of this season’s offensive line could lead to that outcome come February.