One way or another, Packers need to target a tackle
Fifth in a 10-part Packers position-analysis series with grades and biggest needs.
GREEN BAY - General manager Brian Gutekunst added two starters to the Green Bay Packers' offensive line through free agency (right guard Billy Turner) and the draft (left guard Elgton Jenkins) and head coach Matt LaFleur managed Bryan Bulaga beautifully to get him ready and keep him healthy.
The result was a group that played together most of the season and was perhaps the strongest unit on the team.
The Packers were able to rely on the group to establish Aaron Jones as a true No. 1 running back while giving Aaron Rodgers time to make plays in the passing game. While tight ends and receivers were often used to supplement the run-blocking schemes, they were effective as second-level blockers thanks to consistency on the line of scrimmage.
The starting five was remarkably healthy. No starting lineman missed a game between Lane Taylor’s season-ending injury after Week 2 and Bulaga’s illness in the divisional round of the playoffs. And when Bulaga and Corey Linsley missed snaps in games, the backups largely got the job done.
Pass blocking for Rodgers isn’t easy and not all sacks are on the offensive line, but Rodgers was upright most of the season. His 36 sacks were the second-fewest in a full season since he was dropped 28 times in 2014. Per NFL Next Gen stats, Rodgers was afforded 2.88 seconds to throw, tied for the sixth-longest time in the NFL. The line also paved the way for a 1,000-yard rusher and the seventh-most rushing touchdowns in the league.
The foundation of the run game — the wide zone blocking scheme — never quite found its footing despite the continuity along the line. The Packers coaches gave it a quarter of the season before bringing in more inside concepts in Week 5 at Dallas.
The depth at tackle was an issue, as undrafted Alex Light was eventually supplanted by a player coming out of retirement late in the year. The team also lost three linemen to season-ending injuries in practice.
A tackle. No matter what happens with Bulaga in free agency, the clock is winding down on the veteran. The team swung and missed on Jason Spriggs, and they haven’t devoted any draft capital to the position since picking him in the second round in 2016. And if the plan is to shift Turner to right tackle and fill in at right guard, they only have undrafted free agents Light and Yosh Nijman backing up either side.
David Bakhtiari: Played through injury and got healthy as the year went on. Led team in penalties (12), which stalled five drives. Was Pro Football Focus’ No. 13 graded tackle (79.4) and had nine games without a sack or hit on the QB. Grade: B-plus
Elgton Jenkins: Rookie nearly won job out of training camp and took over for good in Week 3. Physical and athletic, was a key part of the run game. The No. 19 graded guard in the league by PFF (69.1). Grade: B
Corey Linsley: Committed only two penalties and was the No. 7 center in football by PFF grades (73.8). Played in all 16 games for the third straight season while working with Rodgers to diagnose and call out protections in a new blocking system. Grade: B-plus
Billy Turner: Brought athleticism and durability to the position and had just one accepted penalty but sometimes struggled with consistent pass protection. Was the No. 37 ranked guard in the NFL per PFF (63.0). Grade: C-plus
Bryan Bulaga: Played in every regular-season game but missed snaps due to hand and knee injuries along with a concussion and missed a playoff game with an illness. But when on the field was PFF’s 15th-ranked tackle (77.1 grade) and had 12 games without allowing a sack or hit on the QB. Grade: A-minus
Lucas Patrick: Won the backup center job out of training camp and played 128 snaps in relief of Linsley. Had best pass-blocking year of his career, per PFF (75 grade) but sometimes struggled in run blocking. Grade: C-plus
Alex Light: Won the backup swing tackle job out of camp and filled in for Bulaga at right tackle most often, but was passable at best. He didn’t allow a sack per PFF, but was supplanted by Jared Veldheer at the end of the season. Grade: D
Jared Veldheer: Veteran claimed off waivers came out of retirement to play well against Detroit and Seattle in relief at right tackle, allowing no sacks, hits, hurries or pressures on the QB per PFF. Grade: B
John Leglue: Rookie signed off the New Orleans practice squad Dec. 21, he was never active for a game. Grade: Incomplete
Cole Madison: The 2018 fifth-round draft pick returned to football and made the 53-man roster, but was inactive for every game before tearing an ACL in practice. Grade: Incomplete
Lane Taylor: Veteran won the left guard job out of training camp and played two games before a torn biceps in practice ended his season. Grade: Incomplete
Yosh Nijman: The undrafted rookie spent most of the year on the practice squad before being promoted on Nov. 26. Was inactive until an injured elbow in practice ended his season on Dec. 21. Grade: Incomplete
Jason Spriggs: Fourth-year tackle was placed on season-ending injured reserve before final cuts were made. Grade: Incomplete