This is the next in a series of articles providing an in-depth analysis of each position group on the Green Bay Packers. Today, we will examine the offensive line.
Click here to see our analysis of the quarterback position. Click here for an in-depth look at the Packers running backs this season. The defensive line analysis can be found here, tight ends here and edge/outside linebackers here. Click here for a look at the inside linebackers.
The grades will be for each unit as a whole, but we will provide analysis of each player, their strengths and weaknesses and a quick breakdown of where they stand heading into the offseason.
The offensive line was hit harder by injuries than any other unit on the team. The team had two returning Pro Bowl players entering this season and both missed considerable time due to injuries. Despite the challenges, the offensive line did a good job overall and the depth and versatility of the unit were on display throughout the season.
Here are the grades for the Packers offensive line in 2021. The marks are based on a combination of expectations and performance.
The Packers started the season without starting left tackle David Bakhtiari who suffered a serious knee injury before the 2020 season finale and started the season on the PUP list. Bakhtiari is considered one of the best pass protectors in the league and is an All Pro tackle when healthy.
Unfortunately, the Packers were without Bakhtiari all season except for the first half of the regular-season finale in Detroit. The knee required additional surgeries and after playing against the Lions, he was unable to suit up for the playoff game against San Francisco despite having a bye week between those two games.
It will make a big impact on the offensive line to get Bakhtiari back and healthy in 2022.
When the team knew Bakhtiari would be unavailable long term, they moved Pro Bowl guard Elgton Jenkins to left tackle. Jenkins played eight games before being lost for the season in Week 11 against the Vikings. He missed three games earlier in the season with an ankle injury.
When he played, Jenkins proved his versatility and proved to be a rock at left tackle. When he and Bakhtiari were both out of the lineup, the Packers offensive line was without their two strongest players.
The “next man up” at left tackle was Yosh Nijman. The former Virginia Tech star had played only 14 career snaps on offense prior to this season but was thrust into action and ended up starting eight games for the Packers.
Nijman did well, given the circumstances. Yes, he needed some help from tight ends and running backs especially at first, but overall, he did a solid job of protecting Aaron Rodgers and showed that he may have a future as a starter in this league.
Billy Turner was a solid starter at right tackle for the first 13 games of the season. Turner is versatile, smart and consistent. He also adds leadership to the locker room.
Turner was injured in the second game against the Bears and missed the rest of the regular season. He returned to the lineup for the playoff game against the 49ers, but the Packers started him at left tackle instead of on the right side and he struggled in that game.
Turner is under contract with the Packers for 2022 but at a cap hit of more than $9.2 million and may have to renegotiate his deal to stay in Green Bay. It would be a big loss for the Packers if Turner doesn’t return.
When Turner went down, the Packers moved veteran Dennis Kelly into the lineup. Kelly played well in four starts to close out the regular season at right tackle but did not play well in the playoff loss to the 49ers. He may retire or the Packers could welcome him back on a reasonable one-year deal for depth next season if they have the cap space.
Jon Runyan, Jr. started at left guard in every game except the season opener. Runyan graded out significantly higher as a pass blocker than run blocker and may need to get stronger to improve in that area. He was consistent and solid throughout the season in his first year as a starter.
Right guard was held down by rookie Royce Newman. He started 16 games and improved late in the season after a slow start filled with rookie mistakes. He also graded out stronger as a pass protector than run blocker but had issues with stunts and blitz pickups.
Newman needs to show continued improvement next season but few offensive linemen start right away and the former Mississippi star showed potential in his first season in the NFL.
Rookie Cole Van Lanen spent most of the season on the practice squad but was elevated for the Week 17 game against Minnesota. He is a strong, tough lineman who needs to improve his technique and pass blocking to make it in the NFL. The Packers signed him to a futures contract so he will be in camp next year to compete for a roster spot.
Rookie Josh Myers won the starting center spot in training camp after the departure of Corey Linsley via free agency. The former Ohio State star showed some promise despite making some rookie mistakes in blitz pickup but injuries soon derailed Myers’ first NFL season. Myers called the signals for the offensive line and did a good job in that department.
He missed one game with a broken finger and then suffered a knee injury in Week 6 that sidelined him until the final regular season game in Detroit.
Myers needs to improve his run blocking especially getting to the second level. He showed plenty of potential and the Packers feel he can be their starting center for years to come.
When Myers was injured, Lucas Patrick was moved from right guard to starting center. He is a better center than guard and a favorite of Rodgers. Patrick is tough, determined and gritty. He graded out slightly better than Myers for the season and made fewer glaring mistakes although he doesn’t have the natural athletic ability Myers has.
Patrick will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason and may not be back in Green Bay unless he’s willing to agree to a team-friendly deal.
Jake Hanson saw his first NFL action in his second pro season. He played in five games this year and saw six offensive snaps with the rest of his plays coming on special teams. He will fight for a backup job in training camp again in 2022.
Injuries took their toll on this unit but the depth and versatility of this group helped the Packers keep their offense moving. Yes, Matt LaFleur had to make some changes to the playbook by throwing more short, quick release passes and having tight ends and running backs chip potential pass rushers, but the line got the job done despite missing their two best players for more than half the season and having two rookie starters.
Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers
Click here for more great Packers coverage
Visit my Web site for all things Gil Martin