For the Packers, free agency has gone just as it has for so many years under Ted Thompson. The Packers used a wait and see approach to possibly find a bargain somewhere, but it doesn’t look as if anything will come to light again. As we look around to what’s left of the free agent market, there are few offensive linemen that the Packers need. All the better players out there will be blocked by the current starters and really won’t be much of an upgrade over what the Packers have right now anyway. So, the question then turns to what the Packers will do in the draft.
With Bryan Bulaga and Corey Linsley the only offensive linemen signed beyond 2017, the Packers will need to draft a player or two to develop before the big free agency purge could happen after this season. Now, before I get into everything, let me say I fully believe the Packers will re-sign David Bakhtiari and at least one or both of T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton, but they still need to find some young talent to provide depth. I doubt the Packers will address the offensive line in the first two rounds due to some holes that have to be filled at other positions, but once the third round begins, I expect them to be open to taking someone to groom in case one or more current players leave.
There are a lot of good linemen in this draft. Some might need a little more polishing than others, but let's take a look at who could be around in those middle to late rounds.
Just by comparisons from previous offensive linemen draft picks, Willie Beavers is what the Packers and Ted Thompson seem to look for. He comes from a smaller school, is very athletic, and can play multiple positions on the line. That sounds a lot like current starter T.J. Lang. I see him fitting better long term at guard, but he can be a backup at the tackle spot while James Campen works on his fundamentals and teaches him the ropes of the NFL. He had decent numbers at the NFL Scouting Combine, but where he impressed was in his positional drills. He showed good feet with very good lateral movement and decent vertical sets in the pass rush drills. He played stronger than his bench press numbers indicate but needs to work on not overextending and coming off his base. Beavers should be around in the third and might slip to the bottom of the fourth round.
Before I saw Joe Dahl perform at the Combine, I wasn’t expecting much. He doesn’t have great size to him and he was the left tackle under Mike Leach at Washington State. Usually, offensive linemen in those spread offenses that throw 60 times per game don’t develop well in the NFL. Dahl could be the guy that breaks that mold and tries to model his game by studying some of the smaller guys in the league, "I usually try to pay attention to my position and learn anything I can from them," Dahl told the media at the Combine. "Some guys I like - Joe Staley, I really just like the way he plays. Undersized guy in terms of weight but he's got technique."
While his size is a liability, making him more of a fit a guard or center, his athleticism was very impressive. He had the speed (1.8 10-yard split in the 40) and strength (28 reps on the bench press) and showed flexibility in his positional drills that translate well to the NFL game. He knows he might be a little more of a project with having to redevelop his stance and run blocking and he accepts that: "I'd probably say once or twice a game we came out in a three-point stance and really came just straight downhill. We were more of a zone type deal...but I did some of it at the Senior Bowl and I think I put on a good tape there." He could be a nice pick in the fourth or fifth round for a team where he has a coach that can develop him for a year or two.
The last time the Packers picked a guy out of Colorado, it worked out pretty well - David Bakhtiari has manned the left tackle position for the last three years. Stephane Nembot could be another good pick from the Buffaloes and has some admiration for Bakhtiari: "He's a pretty good player, really good player, especially, coming in and starting right away as a rookie," he said at the Combine. Nembot has a freakish athletic figure and imposes his 6’6" and 322 pound frame on most he comes in contact with. When asked about his size and physicality on the field, he replied "I know for a fact that I'm very physical. I know my work ethic is incredible. I work hard at everything I do, no matter what. I just want them to know if they need someone physical, in run blocking or pass protection, I'm the right guy."
He was one of the top performers in all the tests at the Combine and has tons of potential. The one thing that seems to be holding him back right now is his lack of experience. He has only been in the United States since 2008 and has only played football for five years. Nembot comes from Cameroon where he is actually a prince in his mother’s tribe. Even with his lack of experience, teams could be lining up to pick him in the later rounds. If he gets with the right coach who can harness and develop his pure athleticism, he could be a solid player at either tackle spot for years.
I didn’t know much about Christian Westerman before the Combine but he turned in an all-around impressive performance and opened some eyes. He lead the way in the bench press with 34 reps and turned in some of the top-5 finishes in the other drills. What really caught my eye was how he worked in positional drills. He showed he can more than handle himself at either guard position. He had a quick pull step and good aiming points and power on his punches.
The most impressive aspect though was how he worked with other linemen. On the inside, each player must work well with double teams, fold blocks and pass protections and Westerman did more than that. It almost seemed that he was working with his main partner in the drills, Cody Whitehair, for years. Everything seemed seamless and being smart enough to adjust to those around you is something that every team would love to have. He’ll be another player that’ll fit in that third or fourth round area.