The path to improvement for the Green Bay Packers‘ offense goes through the offensive line. It is unrealistic to expect that the wide receiver room will be better after losing Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, even if there is some optimism for rookies Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs. The Packers haven’t added significant pieces to the running back or tight end rooms. Therefore, the line is the only reasonable space for improvement.
Last season, the O-line regressed because of injuries to David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins. It was a diminished version of the 2020 unit when Green Bay had one of the best (if not the best) offensive lines in the NFL. There was also an issue at center. The Packers had lost Corey Linsley in free agency and had to play two-thirds of the season without the new starter, rookie Josh Myers.
If Bakhtiari plays the entire season and Jenkins is ready for the most important games, the improvement might elevate what the offense can do. It could also ease the transition to Green Bay’s new phase. The Packers may feature a heavier, run-centric style, with big passing plays that try to exploit the speed of receivers like Watson and Sammy Watkins.
If health is not an issue anymore, the Packers’ offensive line should look like this:
David Bakhtiari was the best pass-protecting tackle in the NFL between 2015 and 2020. However, he tore his ACL before Week 17 in 2020. He missed the playoffs in 2020 and almost all of 2021. The only game he played was a meaningless Week 18 contest against the Detroit Lions. It’s fair to say that the injury significantly impacted the last two playoff runs.
Bakhtiari didn’t practice during OTAs and the mandatory minicamp, so there’s reason to be worried about his status. The Packers’ expectation is for Bakhtiari to be ready for training camp.
Jon Runyan won the job by Week 2 last season and has been reliable. Going into the third year of his NFL career, he’ll probably establish himself as the team’s full-time left guard. However, Green Bay’s coaching staff may plan to use Jenkins as a guard. In this case, the Packers could move Runyan to right guard.
Last season, Green Bay’s plan at center wasn’t successful for various reasons. First, Myers hasn’t been as good as Creed Humphrey, drafted one pick later by the Kansas City Chiefs. Moreover, Myers missed 11 games because of a knee injury, which might have hindered his development.
Lucas Patrick was a solid starter while Myers was out, but the Chicago Bears signed him. Therefore, Myers must become more reliable for the Packers. Zach Tom would be Green Bay’s Plan B at center. Green Bay drafted him in the fourth round of this year’s draft. Tom played left tackle last season but had been a center before that. His physical profile is perfect for him to play the position in the NFL.
Right guard is unquestionably the spot with the highest level of uncertainty. Green Bay’s initial plan is probably to have second-year player Royce Newman as the starter, but he will have to develop to secure the position. Last season, Newman was the weakest link in the offensive line for most of the year, which became clear by the end of the season. When Myers was ready to return from injury, the Packers moved Patrick from center to right guard, and they ended up benching Newman.
Now Newman has the first chance to prove himself. If he cannot make a leap, it will generate an open competition for the starting job. The favorite would be third-round rookie Sean Rhyan, who was a left tackle in college but is projected to be a guard in the NFL. Another scenario, as mentioned above, is to have Elgton Jenkins and LG and move Jon Runyan to the right side. Zach Tom and Cole Van Lanen could also compete for the position.
It’s improbable that Elgton Jenkins will be ready for Week 1, but the ideal scenario is for him to be the starter when the Packers are playing their most important games. Before that, Nijman is expected to play there. He only has experience as a left tackle, but Nijman has practiced on the right side this offseason to be ready if necessary. Rhyan and Cole Van Lanen are other options.
The Packers have invested heavily in the offensive line, and Brian Gutekunst’s philosophy may pay off this season. If everybody is fully healthy, a unit with David Bakhtiari, Jon Runyan, Josh Myers, Royce Newman/Sean Rhyan, and Elgton Jenkins is among the most talented in football. It can carry the team to another level.