Not many people expected a lot from Green Bay Packers offensive lineman Zach Tom in his rookie season. He had multiple players ahead of him on the depth chart and wasn’t even the first offensive lineman drafted by the team this year. But thus far, Tom has played well when given the opportunity and it now looks like he’ll be taking on an even bigger role for the Pack in the team’s next few games.
The Packers selected Tom in the fourth round of this year’s NFL draft, one round after adding offensive lineman Sean Rhyan. GM Brian Gutekunst was impressed with the versatility Tom gave the team as he started 23 games at left tackle in college and 14 at center. Because of his lack of bulk, many scouts projected him as a guard in the NFL.
During training camp, Tom saw action at multiple positions along the line. The Packers were facing uncertainty throughout the unit with both David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins on the PUP list as they came back from knee injuries. The team was looking for the best combination of players who could step in until those two valuable starters were ready to play. Tom quickly passed Rhyan on the depth chart and challenged for a starting spot early in training camp before starting the season as a backup.
Tom got his first taste of NFL action in Week 1 against the Vikings. He didn’t start but filled in and played 30 snaps against the Vikings when the offensive line struggled and faced injuries.
He made his first NFL start against the Washington Commanders in Week 7 at left tackle and made another start the following week against the Buffalo Bills as Bakhtiari struggled to stay healthy. Tom did a solid job when pressed into the starting lineup, protecting Aaron Rodgers’ blind side.
Tom quickly impressed the Packers coaching staff. “The moment wasn’t too big for him,” offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich said after Tom’s first NFL start. “He didn’t have the wide-eyed look you’re hoping not to see from a rookie. He did a great job. He competed. He didn’t have any mental mistakes or anything like that. Yeah, for the most part, just battled his butt off, and I was happy to see that.”
Last week against the Bears, Tom was once again pressed into starting duty at left tackle when Bakhtiari had to undergo an emergency appendectomy. Tom played well and didn’t allow a sack in the game. In fact, the entire offensive line kept Rodgers from being sacked.
Thus far, GM Brian Gutekunst is happy with what he’s gotten from the former Wake Forest star in his rookie campaign. “Zach Tom coming in and doing what he’s done as a rookie, and some of the last-minute fires he’s been thrown into, has been pretty impressive,” Gutekunst told reporters earlier this week as the Packers prepared for their bye.
Thus far, Pro Football Focus has graded Tom higher for his pass blocking than his run blocking which is atypical of many rookie offensive linemen. Tom has been smart and seems to know how to adjust to stunts and blitzes better than most first year players. He is improving as a run blocker with each successive game he plays and appears to see the big picture and not just the player he is assigned to block.
Head coach Matt LaFleur described Tom as “super reliable,” another rare compliment for a rookie. He added, “Zach went in there and did a great job.”
Tom will likely have to see more action in the next few games. Bakhtiari’s recovery from the appendectomy is expected to take 2-4 weeks which means that when the Packers take the field against the Rams a week from this Monday night, there’s a real possibility Tom will again be in the starting lineup.
Whether Bakhtiari returns later this season remains to be seen. But each game Tom plays is a bonus for the rookie that will only give him experience and more confidence as he enters his second NFL season next year.
For now, Tom is making a very strong impression. The Packers may have found a steal in the fourth round when they selected Zach Tom.
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