Green Bay Packers

What's the Best Way the Packers Can Fortify Their Interior Offensive Line?

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers made impactful moves early in free agency, signing safety Xavier McKinney and running back Josh Jacobs to address significant areas of need. They also brought back some of their own key free agents. But now the Packers must look to the upcoming draft to plug their remaining roster holes.

A new defense means re-stocking the cupboard at crucial positions, including cornerback, safety, and linebacker. However, one of their biggest areas of need is on the offensive side of the ball.

Jordan Love and Green Bay’s young offense caught fire during the last half of the season, but their offensive line took a hit in the new league year. The Packers released David Bakhtiari, while Yosh Nijman and Jon Runyan Jr. took opportunities elsewhere.

Green Bay’s starting tackles are still solid. Zach Tom is a rising star, and Rasheed Walker is evolving into a reliable starter. However, they lack depth, and the interior has more questions than answers. With the lack of proven talent on the interior and the inflating interior offensive line costs in free agency, the Packers must dip heavily into this year’s iOL draft class.

Even as the unit improved, the Packers battled inconsistency on the interior of their offensive line. The group often struggled with run blocking despite being a solid pass-protection group. While Elgton Jenkins was reliable at left guard and recovered from his previous ACL injury, center and right guard were inconsistent.

Josh Myers had his usual ups and downs. However, Green Bay’s coaching staff is much higher on Myers publicly than the fanbase is. No matter how much the Packers like him, he hasn’t proven he’ll be back in 2025 when his rookie contract ends.

Jon Runyan Jr. started at right guard for the majority of the season but had his worst year as a starter, thanks in part to lingering injuries. During the second half of the season, he split time with Sean Rhyan, a second-year player. Rhyan showed some nice things after a dud rookie year but still needs some improvement.

Runyan would have been a nice depth piece, filling a Lucas Patrick-type role, but the New York Giants gave him a three-year, $30 million deal. That leaves Rhyan as the presumed starter for 2024, but the job isn’t guaranteed. Green Bay hasn’t re-signed Royce Newman, but he’ll be the most experienced guard on the team if they do. While he could provide value as an affordable backup, few Packers fans would be excited to see him start.

The Packers need more interior talent for both the immediate and long-term future. Elgton Jenkins is the only proven player who will remain on the roster beyond 2024. Free agency doesn’t appear to be the avenue to address this deficiency, with the market blowing up in 2024. Teams value guards in free agency to combat interior defensive linemen’s growing talent. While tackles still get the most money, guards are quickly catching up.

Of the top-10 biggest free-agency contracts among offensive linemen, seven went to interior linemen. Former Miami Dolphins guard Robert Hunt led the pack with a five-year, $100 million deal with the Carolina Panthers. Runyan’s aforementioned deal was the seventh-highest for an offensive lineman.

For reference, Elgton Jenkins, who also has tackle experience, is the league’s sixth-highest-paid interior offensive lineman at four years, $68 million. Jenkins might be the most expensive player on Green Bay’s offense, but that deal looks like a steal with the current state of the market.

Therefore, the Packers must look to the draft to fill that need. Thankfully, the Packers seem to be okay with this. Gutekunst has triple-dipped at offensive linemen during the draft multiple times, and the Packers are one of the league’s best teams at identifying offensive line talent, especially in the later rounds of the draft.

Expect at least two, if not three, interior linemen to be taken in this year’s draft. And this year’s class seems to be loaded with talent. Gutekunst has taken interior linemen early — Jenkins and Myers are second-round picks. Gutekunst could strike early again this year, maybe in the first round.

Duke’s Graham Barton has been a popular mock-draft pick for Green Bay in the first and second rounds. (And we know how serious mock drafts are.) Jokes aside, while taking an interior lineman in the first round may not be sexy to some people, a player like Barton could be a potential Pro Bowl starter for the next decade.

Taking a star like Barton early and adding a few more pieces in the later rounds would set Green Bay up for success. They have a good chance of finding their next diamond in the rough, like Runyan (a former sixth-round pick), on Day 3.

Constantly drafting offensive linemen in this league is a good strategy, especially when Green Bay is so good at it compared to its peers. But it may be more important than ever this year to further elevate the ascending Jordan Love-led offense. With how the market has evolved, getting good, young, cheap talent in this draft is vital to the team’s long-term outlook.

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Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

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