Over Thanksgiving week, Green Bay Packers fans learned that Yosh Nijman can do the robot. In Sunday’s win over the Los Angeles Rams, Packers fans also learned that Nijman can play some high-quality football.
Nijman didn’t have a perfect game against the Rams, as is to be expected while facing Aaron Donald and Von Miller. But the 26-year-old former undrafted free agent received high praise from Aaron Rodgers following the Packers’ 36-28 victory at Lambeau Field.
Nijman entered the season on the fringe of the offensive line rotation, but soon the Packers needed him to step in — and step up — to replace an All-Pro caliber player in Elgton Jenkins following his knee injury in Minnesota. This on top of the fact that David Bakhtiari is still not quite ready to return following last season’s ACL injury. In the interim, Nijman has stepped into the left tackle role and exceeded all expectations through his four starts.
“I gave him a big hug after the game and told him, ‘I almost forgot about that side of the line,’ and that’s a huge compliment because I didn’t have any worries about my backside,” said Rodgers of Nijman following Sunday’s win. “You’re going against two likely Hall of Famers (Miller and Donald) and a stud in Floyd, who’s been doing it at a high level now for half a decade. That’s a tough, tough, tough job. And to step in and play as well as he did, really proud of him.”
To be completely fair, the Packers haven’t asked the exact same of Nijman that they would out of Bakhtiari or Jenkins, but it’s a credit to the Green Bay coaching staff to be able to play to Nijman’s strengths. That helps design a game plan that still allows the offense to be successful.
Earlier in the week, right tackle Billy Turner referred to Nijman as, pound for pound, “the most explosive person” on the Packers’ roster. He’s got great size at 6’7” and 315 lbs., but if you asked him to live on an island at left tackle, holding up for long-developing play-action sequences, that might not play into his skill set. Popping a defensive tackle, winning leverage quickly, and allowing Rodgers to get out designed throws rapidly? That’s been a recipe for success with Nijman in the game.
Green Bay is in an excellent spot heading into the latest bye week in franchise history. They’ve got a 9-3 record, with a favorable schedule (three home games out of five total remaining, plus the Lions on the road) to close out the regular season. One of the biggest reasons that the Packers have been able to continue winning games has been their ability to withstand injury.
Going into a Bakhtiari-less season, Green Bay has seen Jenkins and Robert Tonyan go down for the year, Za’Darius Smith miss most of the season, and Jaire Alexander sidelined as well, not to mention the other various ailments that players such as Rodgers, Aaron Jones, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling have picked up along the way. The Packers aren’t alone in suffering injuries; it’s the NFL, and players are lost for the season each and every week. What set Green Bay apart is their ability to continue winning.
The Packers are 4-0 in the four games that Nijman has started against the San Francisco 49ers, Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Rams. Each of those teams features absolute studs along the defensive line. It’s not like he’s mounting some sort of surprise Pro Bowl campaign. But he’s been better than average, ranking 39th out of 82 qualifying offensive tackles in pass-block grade entering the week, according to Pro Football Focus.
The preference would be for Bakhtiari to return and hit the ground running, getting back to his usual self. However, the Packers are planning on playing eight or nine more games this season and will need to continue to flex the depth of the 53-man roster that Brian Gutekunst has put together. Rasul Douglas has made big plays stepping in for Jaire Alexander, and even guys like Equanimeous St. Brown have shown flashes, stepping in for the likes of MVS and Randall Cobb. Depth is so critical for winning teams as they get into December and January. Having competent to above-average players like Nijman waiting in the wings is a big reason why Green Bay can put together a Super Bowl run this season despite their injuries.