Despite just over a decade of heartbreak, there’s one thing the Green Bay Packers haven’t had a problem with in the Aaron Rodgers era – putting together a dominant regular season en route to an NFC North title. However, with the departure of Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling; the continued uncertainty surrounding David Bakhtiari; and, now, the potential for Elgton Jenkins to miss at least the first six games, it might be harder than it’s ever been for Rodgers to keep the Packers on top.
According to a recent report from ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, Jenkins is a candidate to start the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, which would keep him out for at least the first six games. This news coincides with Matt LaFleur’s non-committal statements about Bakhtiari’s status for training camp, which is set to occur approximately 19 months after Bakhtiari suffered a torn ACL. Bakhtiari was initially slated to make his return at some point last season. However, despite speculation that he might return alongside Jaire Alexander and Za’Darius Smith in the playoffs, the Packers have ruled him out again. His only snaps of the 2021 season came in the first half of a meaningless Week 18 contest in Detroit.
One of the major stories of the 2021 season was the resilience of Green Bay’s offensive line despite constant injuries and reshuffling. The effort, which can be credited to both their depth and Adam Stenavich, the former OL coach and current offensive coordinator, will be difficult to repeat. A lot of that depth has left the building. The Packers parted ways with tackles Billy Turner and Dennis Kelly, and guard Lucas Patrick signed with the Chicago Bears. After the team only brought in third-round rookie Sean Rhyan, Rodgers will be holding his breath until there’s more certainty about his pair of Pro Bowl protectors.
The uncertainty on the line also bodes poorly for the running game, which is expected to carry a larger share of the offensive load. Green Bay’s backfield duo is among the best in the league, whereas their group of receivers is inexperienced and largely unproven. One of their top pass-catchers, tight end Robert Tonyan, is also part of the ACL club. However, there is more optimism about his readiness for the season opener.
Rodgers has experience carrying a disproportionate load for the Packers, even for a Hall of Fame quarterback. But this is going to be different. The imbalance has typically come from poor defensive performance, leading to Rodgers and the offense having to go nuclear almost weekly. However, after basically going from Jordy Nelson to an elite Davante Adams, Rodgers will be without a clear No. 1 heading into a season for the first time in his career. Over the years, he has demonstrated an ability to lead a solid offense no matter who’s lined up on the outside, most recently last season in Arizona. But the twin challenges of a shaky receiving corps and potential inconstancy on an otherwise dominant offensive line might force Rodgers and LaFleur to turn in their best performances yet.
Another aberration from how things have been: The Packers will head into 2022 with an elite defense. Yes, they haven’t played a down together yet, but the personnel is simply too strong across the board for Joe Barry’s unit to finish anywhere worse than top seven or eight. So, maybe it will be harder than it’s ever been for Rodgers to throw for 4,000 yards, but maybe it won’t even matter.
A lot depends on the progression of Jenkins and Bakhtiari as we approach training camp. If they can get on the field at least in time to take the North, and second-year center Josh Myers takes a step forward, everything could be flipped on its head. It doesn’t take Davante Adams to get open when you’ve got the most talented quarterback in league history behind a stout offensive front. At least, that is what Brian Gutekunst and the Packers front office seem to be betting on if they are truly all-in this upcoming season.