Brian Gutekunst stocks up on offensive linemen like they’re going out of style, and the Green Bay Packers are better for it. The Packers’ GM has selected three offensive linemen in each of his last three drafts. He also took the ever-versatile Elgton Jenkins in 2019 and signed Billy Turner in free agency.
Teams win games in the trenches, and the good Lord only made so many big, athletic men. These cliches come up often when discussing the Packers because of how true they are and how much they define Green Bay’s team-building philosophies.
Few positions along the offensive line can be locked in for 2022. Only David Bakhtiari at left tackle can be considered a sure thing. There’s an open competition just about everywhere along the offensive line, and three new draft picks are competing for these spots. So where does that leave Royce Newman, who started most of the 2021 season at right guard?
Newman joined the team last season as a prototypical Packers interior lineman. Drafted in the fourth round, where Green Bay has had luck with offensive linemen in the past, Newman has the tackle experience, athleticism, and the great hair the Packers love. With Jenkins filling in for Bakhtiari to start the season, at least one starting guard spot was open. Newman became the favorite for right guard early in the preseason and earned the Week 1 starting job.
Like most rookies, Newman had his ups and downs. The offensive line struggled with run blocking, including Newman. He often looked lost after his original assignment or struggled against quicker, experienced interior defensive linemen. His grades weren’t great — PFF gave him a 55.7, while Andy Herman had Newman as his second-lowest graded offensive player, with a -4.95.
Still, Newman showed enough ability to stay on as a starter as Green Bay’s offensive line depth dwindled, and he was rarely a liability. In many ways, he looked like Josh Sitton as a rookie. It was difficult to build continuity as the Packers constantly shuffled the line, especially with center Josh Myers missing most of the season. Newman also played tackle during his final season at Ole Miss, so he’s still adjusting to life as a guard in the NFL.
Ultimately, he will need to take a Year 2 leap to remain a starter in 2022.
While Bakhtiari at left tackle is probably the only certainty right now, it’s hard to imagine Josh Myers not remaining the starting center. Jon Runyan Jr. is the favorite to start at left guard, but both guard spots and right tackle should be an open competition when training camp begins.
Jenkins is presumably the starting right tackle when he’s cleared to play, but when it happens is unclear. Rookie draft picks Sean Rhyan and Zach Tom have a serious chance to compete for guard or tackle, while Rasheed Walker should get an opportunity to compete at tackle.
Yosh Nijiman is the favorite to start the season at RT, but he’s only played on the left side thus far, and any of the three rookies could beat him out. Rhyan or Tom starting at tackle would be good news for Newman because it means one less competitor for the guard spot.
Rhyan and Tom offer a lot to get excited about, and Walker could outperform his draft spot with the right coaching. But just because the new toys are here doesn’t mean the old ones are broken. Newman has a few advantages his new teammates don’t.
Newman isn’t a rookie, an obvious statement but a massive advantage. He knows the playbook and has a year of NFL experience on the field and in the weight room. On paper, he’s more ready.
On Tuesday, new offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich said that rookie O-linemen have a two-part evaluation: Can they learn the playbook, and how do they look in pads? Right now, Rhyan, Tom, and Walker are in early Phase 1, while Newman has already gone through the process.
Meanwhile, a statistic shared by PFF research intern Arjun Menon showed that while college guards often had a better start to their NFL careers, tackle-guard converts play better in Years 2 and 3. That could mean a big jump for Newman.
Of course, this data doesn’t account for individual players. Newman has a lot going for him, but he wasn’t irreplaceable on the field as a rookie. Matt LaFleur loves to mention putting the “best five” linemen out there, and Newman will have to prove to the coaches he’s one of them. The competition will be tough and one of the most interesting battles to follow in training camp.
Rhyan and Tom are stiff competition, and they may take a Jerry Seinfeld-like view of this rival Newman. Can Royce Newman stave off these two promising rookies? We’ll find out this summer.