Green Bay Packers

Rasheed Walker's Emergence Helps Ease David Bakhtiari's Inevitable Departure

Photo Credit: Mark Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps more than any position other than quarterback, it often takes a premium draft pick to find a franchise left tackle. Rasheed Walker isn’t necessarily set in stone as the bookend for the next decade. David Bakhtiari was that stalwart on the edge, however, and Walker’s development over his first two season has at least allowed Green Bay to absorb the shock of Bakhtiari’s inevitable departure with minimal residual impact.

At a press conference in early February, Packers GM Brian Gutekunst spoke candidly about several players, including Bakhtiari. The five-time All-Pro is still battling through the aftereffects of an ACL tear he suffered on the final day of 2020. Bakhtiari has missed 47 games over the last four seasons. Releasing or trading him would free upwards of $20 million in cap space, so the Packers may understandably have to make a difficult business decision.

“Obviously, David has been through a really rough stretch with the injury stuff, and he’s going through a very major surgery trying to get back to be able to play,” Gutekunst told reporters on February 1. “We’re monitoring that, and I know he’s working his tail off, and once we get down the road and see where he’s at health-wise, we will kind of make those decisions.

“He’s in the middle of (his recovery). This is not a short one. It’s going to take some time…you guys know his work ethic and how important it is for him to get back and playing. But this was a tough one, so he’s got a ways to go.”

Not exactly words that inspire confidence in Bakhtiari’s ability to be ready for training camp this summer. But somehow those words don’t cause immediate panic for Green Bay fans, largely because of Walker’s play.

It would not be surprising if the Packers drafted a lineman early in the 2024 draft. Like a baseball team with pitchers, a team can never have too many options on the offensive line. Stellar play by players like Zach Tom and Elgton Jenkins allows flexibility across the five-man unit. Still, Walker’s emergence in the 2023 season provides a transition plan that falls somewhere between a stopgap and an anchor at left tackle.

When the Packers took Walker with the 249th selection in the 2022 draft, they could not have realistically expected that he would be starting 15 of 17 games for a playoff-bound team a season later. Top-tier left tackles aren’t drafted that late, except for Jordan Mailata, who didn’t play football before getting drafted. All four of the Pro Bowl tackles in the NFC — Trent Williams, Lane Johnson, Tristan Wirfs, and Penei Sewell — were first-round picks taken within the first 13 selections overall.

Looking at the All-Pro teams from the last five years, all of the tackle selections outside Bakhtiari were first-round picks. Andrew Thomas went fourth overall, Ronnie Stanley went sixth, Rashawn Slater went 13th, and Garrett Bolles had to wait until the 20th pick to get drafted. Being a first-round pick at tackle doesn’t guarantee success, but it’s often hard to find success at left tackle without being a first-round pick.

Whether or not the Packers open the 2024 season with Walker at left tackle remains to be seen. Still, it’s a possibility that puts the Walker selection amongst the best draft picks that Gutekunst has ever made. The Packers may find themselves selecting tackles like Troy Fautanu from Washington, Kingsley Suamataia from BYU, or Kiran Amegadjie from Yale in hopes of developing them as a true left tackle of the future. But Walker has proven to be able to be a competent bridge into the future of protecting Jordan Love.

“I think he did a great job,” Gutekunst said of Walker in that same early February press conference. “You have to give the kid a lot of credit. First of all, his work ethic over the offseason and how tremendously he improved. He fought through some things this year, injury-wise. He was a warrior out there. … I think he can play left and right.”

Gutekunst added, “He’s got a bright future, and he’s only going to get better. We’re excited about him.”

At the peak of his powers, Bakhtiari was a dominant force at left tackle who will go down as one of Ted Thompson‘s best picks, if not the best. The unfortunate knee injury and complications in recovery cast a dark cloud over the later stages of his career, but Walker can be a beacon of light. Turning a seventh-round pick into the protector of your soon-to-be-paid-very-handsomely quarterback would be incredible value for the overall construction of Green Bay’s roster and a key cog in the success of the offense.

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