At the beginning of the 2017 season, most were confident that the Green Bay Packers’ offensive line was going to be one of the strengths of the team. The Packers proved that to be true even with ridiculous amount of injuries that affected the squad this year.
A stat that completely surprised me came from Pro Football Reference: the Packers used 11 different offensive line combinations to start a game throughout the season. In fact, the only combination that started more than two games together was the group of David Bakhtiari, Lane Taylor, Corey Linsley, Jahri Evans and Jason Spriggs, who got four starts together.
This shows the very nice depth that the Packers have on the offensive line and the excellent job Coach James Campen did this season in working around these injuries.
Here’s a look at the revolving door that was the Packers offensive line, in order of games started, this season.
Corey Linsley - C
Linsley started all 16 games at center for the Packers this season. In fact, he was the only offensive lineman to start every game this year and he didn’t miss a single snap. Linsley being in every game might have been the linchpin that kept the offensive line together through all the changes.
The biggest asset having your center available for all games affects communication more than anything else. He identifies the defensive front and communicates the blocking scheme for the plays. Linsley has shown that he excels in that aspect of the game. I find it fascinating when the on-field microphones pick up the communication on the line for each play and Linsley is always leading the way for the Packers up front.
Looking at his play on the field, Linsley only had two penalties (both holds) and gave up one sack on the year. I find it impressive that he was able to keep both categories so low throughout an entire season. The Packers also found an emerging running game as the season went on with a bunch of rookies in the backfield. This bodes well for the Packers and Linsley going forward as they rewarded him with a contract extension at the end of the season. Linsley will be a good player anchoring the middle of the line for the next several years.
Lane Taylor - LG, LT
Taylor started 15 games this season only missing the Detroit game in week nine. Taylor started 13 of those games at his usual left guard spot and filled in admirably at left tackle when David Bakhtiari and Kyle Murphy were both sidelined with injuries.
Taylor is what most want in an offensive lineman: he doesn’t put a big target on himself and does any work that gets asked of him. He may not be the most complete player but he excels in the run game and definitely benefits having Bakhtiari and Linsley surrounding him in the pass game.
Taylor gave up four sacks on the season and had zero penalties. He’s not a guy who is going to get a lot of recognition but has proven over the years that he’s a perfect grinder type player that the Packers need up front to get the dirty work done.
Jahri Evans - RG
I found Evans to be a pleasant surprise this year. New Orleans went with some younger guys and let him go after last year and the Packers scooped him up the day before the NFL Draft. Evans battled it out with the younger guys on the roster and won the right guard job out of camp. Evans proceeded to start the next 14 games, only missing the final two games against the Vikings and Lions with a knee injury.
While Evans is not near his All-Pro form earlier in his career, he provided the veteran leadership for an offensive line that was in flux almost every week. Evans had four different right tackles play next to him and all but regular starter Bryan Bulaga were very inexperienced.
Evans had a good year with three penalties and he gave up four sacks. He might be regressing slightly as he gets older but he only came in on a one-year contract and might be worth another similar contract if the Packers aren’t sure they can replace him internally or through the draft.
David Bakhtiari - LT
The Packers best offensive lineman of the year was David Bakhtiari hands down. He battled through a hamstring injury early in the season to start 12 games at left tackle. Even through only 12 games, Bakhtiari earned his second straight second team All-Pro selection. Mysteriously, he missed the Pro Bowl this season and, in a nod to the Pro Bowl being a popularity contest, first team All-Pro tackle Andrew Whitworth initially wasn’t on the roster either but was named a replacement later on for a more “well known” name through the league.
Bakhtiari continued his stellar play that earned him a large extension back in 2016 by only having two holding penalties and giving up three sacks on the year. Having Bakhtiari anchoring the left side of the line for years to come gives me a sense of peace that this past season was just a year of injuries and the Packers will be back to their winning ways next season.
Justin McCray - RT, RG, LG
If there were an award for a player coming out of nowhere to make a good impression, I’d have to give it to Justin McCray this season. McCray battled just to make the team out of camp this year and ended up starting eight games this year and playing in 13 games overall. McCray, usually an interior lineman, started five of those games at right tackle, one at left guard and two at right guard.
There were definite times where McCray was overmatched this season as he gave up a team high six sacks but he filled in where he could and gave the coaches a reason to keep him around for the future. McCray should be a nice piece to give the Packers depth on the interior next season and may be following the path on Lane Taylor by possibly setting himself up to take over the right guard spot if and when the Packers move on from Jahri Evans.
Bryan Bulaga - RT
What a disaster of a year for Bryan Bulaga. Bulaga was only able to start five games this season as the injuries piled on. There wasn’t a week where he wasn’t on the injury report until week nine against the Lions. He was finally feeling better and then…BANG… he tears his ACL. At that point I started feeling sorry for the guy, as he just couldn’t stay healthy and returned to the familiar story of injuries defining his career.
When Bulaga played, he did a nice job having only one penalty and giving up one sack but he has only been able to play all 16 games twice in his career (2010, 2016). That lack of durability might come into factor his future with the Packers. He is under contract until 2020 but at an average salary of $6.75 million that might be too much to take on. He could be another possibility to move inside to the guard position, especially after an ACL injury, but I don’t see a clear and reasonable replacement at tackle for that to happen yet.
Jason Spriggs - RT
We seem to be in the nagging injury section of the players right now and that continues with Jason Spriggs. A hamstring injury put Spriggs on injure reserved early in the season. The Packers activated him off IR to get five starts at right tackle before a knee injury got him back on injured reserve in December.
Spriggs only gave up two sacks this season but is still fighting to live up to the high expectations of a second round draft pick in 2016. I thought he showed some good flashes of athleticism in his limited action but he needs to work on his strength if he is going to finally break through and get significant playing time in the future.
Kyle Murphy - RT, LT
After a strong pre-season Kyle Murphy emerged as a possible breakthrough player. As Bryan Bulaga could not start in week one at right tackle, he won the job and gave a short look at if he could hold the position. After that game he flipped to the left side at started at left tackle as David Bakhtiari went down with an injury. Unfortunately, that’s all we would see out of Murphy as he went to IR after the third game with a foot injury.
While Murphy looked on paper as a possible breakthrough player, those three games gave a different view. He gave up five sacks in his three games and struggled with the speed and strength of the game. He will give the Packers some depth on the outside but needs to come back strong from his injury to secure any type of future in the NFL.
Lucas Patrick - RG, LG
Lucas Patrick fits into that Justin McCray mold as a young guy who can give the Packers some depth on the interior of the line. He ended up starting one game at each guard position this year and played in 12 games overall. Patrick is still very young and has a lot of potential for Coach Campen to tap into. I can see him continuing to develop and be a valuable piece for the future of the Packers offensive line.
Others with minimal to no playing time: Ulrick John, Adam Pankey
Position Grade: B+
With all the injuries up front, APC definitely gave the offensive line positive marks this year. The Packers only played with their best five offensive linemen (Bakhtiari, Taylor, Linsley, Evans and Bulaga) twice this year and they didn’t even get on the field together until week six when Aaron Rodgers had his injury.
Some positives were that they were forced to play a lot of young guys and, while they struggled, they received valuable playing experience and some gave a very positive outlook for the future. Even with this revolving door on the line, the young running backs showed they had some game too. That wouldn’t have been possible without the excellent run blocking that improved throughout the season.
Going forward, I don’t see a lot of changes coming up in 2018. Bulaga’s contract keeps him at right tackle and Jahri Evans earned his right to another short term deal until one of the young guys step up and show they are ready for a full-time starting gig. There may be some minor shuffling but the Packers have needs in other areas they need to focus on before making any sweeping changes to the offensive line.