Green Bay Packers

Brian Gutekunst Needs To Prioritze Offensive Line Depth

Photo Credit: Dan Powers (USA TODAY Sports)

The Green Bay Packers have eight offensive linemen under contract for the 2022 season. That unit will need to be a point of focus for general manager Brian Gutekunst. There was a discernible downgrade in play from 2020 to 2021, which can be chiefly attributed to David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins’ injuries along with cap restraints.

Tackles

Bakhtiari is a sure thing. Although he lost basically all of 2021, the expectation is that he will be fully back in September as the starting left tackle. During last season, the Packers needed to use Jenkins, Yosh Nijman, and Billy Turner at the position. Beyond that, they lost depth at other spots.

Jenkins himself is a question mark. He suffered a torn ACL in November, so there aren’t assurances he will be back in time to play in Week 1. Whenever he is available, Jenkins will be a chess piece for head coach Matt LaFleur and new offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich. During his career, Jenkins has played all over the offensive line. And although he is an All-Pro-level left guard, the positional value indicates he might move to right tackle full-time. According to PFF, tackles generated a 6.00 wins above replacement (WAR) in 2020, against 4.89 WAR generated by guards.

If he isn’t ready, the right tackle spot is more of a mystery. Billy Turner has been the starter since he signed with the team in 2019, but now he is a potential cap casualty. The backup right tackle was Dennis Kelly, but he is an unrestricted free agent. The Packers could opt to keep one of them to be safer.

Center and guards

The interior of the offensive line is promising, even if Jenkins is injured or playing at right tackle. The Packers have three young players with some experience and a good talent level:

  • Jon Runyan Jr. (sixth round, 2020) became the starting left tackle and had a solid season in 2021.
  • Josh Myers (second round, 2021) also suffered a knee injury but showed flashes and is a physical lineman.
  • Royce Newman (fourth round, 2021) had ups and downs but is viewed as a future piece.

Gutekunst will also have to make a decision on Lucas Patrick. The versatile interior lineman, who has been with the Packers since 2016, is set to be a free agent after starting most of the season as the center or right guard.

Green Bay has two offensive linemen as exclusive-rights free agents. The first and most important one is Yosh Nijman, an undrafted tackle who’s been part of the Packers organization for the last three years. After years as a project, Nijman finally had ample opportunities last season and started eight games as a left tackle, with a decent 63.2 PFF grade.

The Packers might use Nijman as a swing backup tackle or maybe even start if he’s trusted to move from the left to the right side of the line. The other ERFA is Jake Hanson, an undersized center who was Green Bay’s sixth-round pick in 2020 and shouldn’t be more than another guy battling for a roster or practice squad spot.

Another former sixth-round pick Cole Van Lanen is assured to be back. The Wisconsin-native spent his first season up and down from the active roster to the practice squad. The current offensive line depth is completed by center Michal Menet, who the Arizona Cardinals drafted but ended the season on Green Bay’s practice squad.

2021 PFF grades
Ideal world

The best-case scenario for the Packers starts with Bakhtiari and Jenkins being healthy and starting at the tackle spots. If that happens, Gutekunst would be more than happy to move on from Turner and Kelly, making Nijman an inexpensive swing tackle. Runyan, Myers, and Newman would be a cheap and promising interior, especially if Newman can make a second-year leap. Gutey would be wise to keep Patrick, though, because he’s a more experienced player and would provide depth to every interior spot.

Given the recent history, it’s clear Gutenkunst will also search for new offensive line pieces. Since he became the general manager in 2019, the Packers added players to the unit in the draft and free agency every year.

2018
Draft: G Cole Madison
Free Agents: G Byron Bell, G Ethan Cooper, G Nico Siragusa

2019
Draft: G Elgton Jenkins
Free Agents: T Billy Turner, T Jared Veldheer, G Dejon Allen, G Adam Pankey, T John Leglue

2020
Draft: G Jon Runyan, C Jake Hanson, T Simon Stepaniak
Free Agents: T Rick Wagner, T Jared Veldheer

2021
Draft: C Josh Myers, G Royce Newman, T Cole Van Lanen
Free Agents: T Dennis Kelly, G Ben Braden

What to expect

The main pieces are already in place if Bakhtiari and Jenkins are healthy. But the Packers will add players to the offensive line because it’s a core philosophy in Gutekunst’s team-building approach. We can expect additions through the draft and free agency to provide depth and possible future replacements in the starting lineup, as has been the procedure since Gutekunst took over.

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