It’s rare for a team to add two Pro Bowlers to the offensive line in the same offseason, but that’s exactly what will happen for the Green Bay Packers in 2022. After finishing last season without David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins because of ACL injuries, both expect both to be back this year. Considering Bakhtiari will be the starting left tackle, where will Jenkins play?
Through his first three seasons in the NFL, Jenkins has played left guard, center, right tackle, and left tackle. He has been something between very good and great at all of them. Jenkins’ versatility is a good problem to have, but it’s something the coaching staff will have to address as soon as he is cleared to return.
Jenkins started his career as a left guard, his primary position. He made All-Rookie Team in 2019 and the Pro Bowl in 2020 as a left guard. In his second season, though, Jenkins also had two starts at right tackle and three at center because starters Billy Turner and Corey Linsley got injured. Beginning last November, Jenkins started eight games at left tackle before suffering a torn ACL. If the recovery goes well, he should be able to play in September or October.
Head coach Matt LaFleur is a proponent of the formula of putting the best five linemen on the field. If that’s the rubric to choose where Jenkins will play, it will depend on what pieces the Packers may add to the roster in the draft. If Brian Gutekunst drafts a tackle with a high pick, Jenkins could be back to guard. Or even if no offensive lineman is taken to start immediately, the competition to start would be between tackle Yosh Nijman and guards Jon Runyan and Royce Newman. Left tackle David Bakhtiari and center Josh Myers are set in their positions.
But that can’t be the only way of analyzing the situation. In the current state of the NFL, it’s important to use the best players in the most impactful ways — especially because Jenkins will be a free agent after the 2022 season. Given how well he played at left tackle, the expectation is that he will ask for tackle money to re-sign. Playing as left tackle last season, Jenkins gave up just two sacks and 10 pressures in 229 snaps, becoming the fifth-highest-graded tackle by PFF.
Considering positional value, tackle is significantly more important than guard. According to PFF numbers, the top 32 tackles in the league generated 6.00 wins above replacement-level players in 2020, against 4.89 wins above replacement accumulated by the top 32 guards. So, even if Jenkins is a better left guard than right tackle, his best usage is at tackle. It’s where he can impact the game more, and because a worse player will be in a less impactful spot.
Publicly, the Packers won’t reveal where Jenkins will play. But Gutekunst was complimentary of Jenkins’ ability to play all five positions on the line.
“I can’t say enough about Elgton and his ability to play all five spots in the National Football League at a high level,” said the Packers general manager. “There’s just not many guys in this league that can do that.”
Offensive line coach Luke Butkus hasn’t said where they plan to use Jenkins either, just calling him a “stud.”
Considering all factors, right tackle is the best way to maximize how good Elgton Jenkins can be, especially after releasing former starter Turner, who is now back with the Denver Broncos. Nijman is the current option to be the right tackle, but he hasn’t played a down on the right side of the line so far.
Meanwhile, the starting guards would be Jon Runyan and Royce Newman, mid-round draft picks who have had experience playing throughout the 2021 season. Runyan, specifically, played at a high level, finishing the season with a 65.1 PFF grade. Newman had ups and downs, but he’s a former fourth-round pick, and the Packers see him as a developmental player with high upside.
The offensive coaching staff will have more time to analyze and decide. The Packers will have a training camp and the preseason to run tests in the next couple of months, and the team may start the season without Jenkins. Therefore, it might be a final chance to see Runyan, Newman, and Nijman on the field at the same time and evaluate the best spot for Jenkins in the formation.