For the first time in what feels like a long time, the offensive line personnel for the Green Bay Packers seems to be in flux.
Lane Taylor’s departure to Houston last week was the latest surprise in what has been a fairly unpredictable offseason for Green Bay. For context, the re-signing of Aaron Jones caught many fans off guard. It was assumed that the Packers would elect to save money at the running back position and instead reinvest in their offensive line talent. However, with big money going to Jones, Green Bay has seen both Taylor and standout center Corey Linsley walk this offseason.
Losing Taylor isn’t necessarily a devastating loss, but it is a blow to the offensive line’s depth. After David Bakhtiari tore his ACL last year, Taylor filled in admirably as a starter. With their ace-in-the-hole backup now gone, it would seem that depth may be an issue next year. The 2021 O-line will look much different than the 2020 top-10 starting unit of Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins, Linsley, Lucas Patrick, and Billy Turner.
So what exactly will this difference look like from the onset? How can the Packers piece together a respectable unit for Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the offense?
Current Players Stepping Up
It is well-documented that Bakhtiari may not return until about Week 3 or 4, based on most projections. He will not be 100% coming off an ACL injury either; it may take him a few games to round into form. It’s probably realistic to think that Green Bay will not get a fully realized Bakhtiari until about halfway through the season at best.
Bakhtiari’s absence, paired with the loss of Linsley, leaves question marks at two of the most important positions on the offensive line. With Bakhtiari’s default replacement at left tackle in Taylor now gone, the onus may be on Turner to fill that gap on the left side until Bakhtiari returns. More responsibility will surely be given to second-year pro Jon Runyan Jr., particularly on the left side of the line.
Runyan looked serviceable in action as a rookie last season. He and Jenkins are two notable offensive line players that Gutekunst has drafted in the last couple of years.
Jenkins, in particular, has looked every part of a breakout player during his young tenure with the Packers. Named to the All-Rookie team in 2019 and the Pro Bowl last year, he is poised to have a long and productive career in Green Bay if the franchise has enough money to keep him around after his rookie deal. He has showcased incredible versatility and has been moved all over the offensive line when injuries have inhibited the Packers’ ability to roll out an idealized starting group.
Turner has been a solid player. Like Turner, Patrick can spot-fill at the center position, among other various positions on the line. The current player group, despite the losses, is still one of the best in the league. ESPN’s Mike Clay recently projected Green Bay’s offensive line as a top-10 unit in the league once again:
Where will additional help come from?
The bulk of the free-agent frenzy has passed, so any offensive line help that is going to move the needle for Green Bay will not come from there.
It is all but certain that Brian Gutekunst and the Packers will add offensive line depth in the upcoming draft. The question is: How early is too early to invest in OL talent when there are other spots of need on the roster?
Everyone knows they need to add a receiver early. As a Minnesota-based Packers fan, adding Rashod Bateman at 29 would be a great brag item. However, there is reason to believe that the front office may trust the current receiver corps enough not to spend an early pick on the position this year.
A few mock drafts floating around out there have linked Green Bay to offensive linemen in the first round: Teven Jenkins from Oklahoma State, Alex Leatherwood from Alabama, and Samuel Cosmi from Texas. Drafting any of these players would give the packers that plug-and-play comfortability and some much-needed insurance for protecting franchise talisman Rodgers.
There is also plenty of offensive line talent to be had in the later rounds of the draft, and Gutekunst may be willing to take more than one player to alleviate any concerns. Zone Coverage’s Preet Shah explored the possibility of Green Bay taking a WR early and then snagging BYU’s Brady Christensen (OT) in the third round. D’Ante Smith (North Carolina) and Robert Hainsey (Notre Dame) are also a couple of names that could be had in Rounds 5 or 6. This would help replenish some of the depth in the wake of Taylor and Linsley’s departure.
If there is any certainty on draft day, it is that the Packers will draft offensive linemen in some capacity. Green Bay may have missed out on retaining their big-name offensive linemen in free agency, though Gutekunst is likely betting on his draft savvy to fill that void once again — much like he did when he drafted Elgton Jenkins and Jon Runyan Jr.
The 2021 draft is right around the corner. The answers to any offensive line questions will surely be answered on that day.