Green Bay Packers

Who Will Be the Starting Right Tackle Until Elgton Jenkins Returns?

Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers released right tackle Billy Turner and didn’t re-sign former backup Chad Kelly. Turner is now with the Denver Broncos, Kelly with the Indianapolis Colts, and Elgton Jenkins seems to be Green Bay’s long-term plan at right tackle. But Jenkins tore his ACL in November, so it’s not certain he will be available for the start of next season.

There’s no clear-cut favorite to be the starter if he isn’t, but the Packers have multiple options to play on the right side of the line after the draft.

Yosh Nijman

Nijman has been with the Packers since 2019, the first year of Matt LaFleur’s tenure in Green Bay. He was a raw project, but they signed him as an undrafted free agent because of his physical profile. After two years of development, Nijman finally had the opportunity to play extensively last year after David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins’ injuries.

Nijman started at left tackle in eight games and also played the second half of the season finale against the Detroit Lions. He wasn’t a total liability and played okay, but the Packers needed to adjust the offense to protect him. The 26-year-old lineman can develop and play better with more experience, but he has never played as a right tackle at the NFL level. The last time he performed as a right tackle was at Virginia Tech in 2018.

Royce Newman

Newman played all of his rookie season as a right guard for the Packers, but he hadn’t had previous experience there. He played at left guard for Ole Miss in 2019 and, more importantly, as a right tackle in 2020. Last season, he had some growing pains and lost the starting job to Lucas Patrick when Josh Myers came back from injury, but he’s a promising and versatile piece for the Packers.

Jon Runyan

Runyan played two seasons as left tackle for Michigan and has been a reliable left guard for the Packers. Last season, Runyan started 16 of the 17 regular-season games, plus the playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers.

He established himself as the starting left guard and could be there long-term if the Packers plan to use Jenkins at right tackle. So it’s more probable that Runyan stays inside. But there is a scenario in which he looks so reliable that the coaching staff decides to test him where the positional value is higher.

Sean Rhyan

The third-round pick was a solid starter as a left tackle for three years at UCLA. Initially, he is projected to be a guard in the NFL because of his relatively short arms. However, he offers decent tackle potential, with good footwork, hand technique, and punch.

“I think Sean Rhyan has what it takes to jump in and start playing right away,” said James H. Williams, a digital sports editor for the O.C. Register and the So Cal News Group and covers the UCLA Bruins football team for the SomethingsBruin Podcast. “Rhyan has shown great reliability and durability during his college career, starting all 31 games. In the Pac-12, he’s played against NFL-level talent opposite him.”

For his NFL Network’s draft profile, an AFC team scout said that he “would let him work at tackle and then fail him inside if he couldn’t do it, but I see him as a right tackle early in his career.”

“He spent the past two seasons at left tackle with UCLA, and has the versatility, as a multi-sport athlete, to make it work at right tackle,” added Williams. “Rhyan has expressed the desire to play at any position across the line up front to get on the field and help impact the game. Rhyan also allowed just two sacks in 1,160 passing plays at UCLA.”

Zach Tom

Tom has a similar draft profile to David Bakhtiari. He played as a center in 2019 and then two seasons as Wake Forest’s left tackle. Tom is polished for a rookie and has good technique and intelligence but lacks the mass to be a top prospect.

He can have a similar role to J.C. Tretter‘s during his time in Green Bay. Tretter was basically the sixth offensive lineman and could play at any spot. Therefore, Tom is probably best-suited to be a center at the professional level, but he can be a situational tackle with higher upside.

The best aspect of Matt LaFleur’s system and Brian Gutekunst’s approach to building the offensive line is that they use similar physical profiles for guards and tackles. That means the Packers can draft offensive linemen with that description, and they all can develop into versatile players. By doing that, the offensive coaching staff has more flexibility to find the five best starters available in case of emergencies – something that became clear in the last two years when Jenkins, Turner, and Lucas Patrick played more than one position.

In essence, the Packers will have the training camp and preseason games to develop and test their young players to analyze where they fit together. That includes some developmental projects who weren’t mentioned before, like seventh-round pick Rasheed Walker or the undrafted players. While I wrote that Elgton Jenkins should be the long-term right tackle, the start of the 2022 season can be an opportunity for a rookie to prove me wrong and allow Jenkins to go back to his original position at left guard.

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