Over the next two weeks, Acme Packing Company takes a look at each position group on the Green Bay Packers and provides grades and insight on how they performed in the 2017 season. Today, we examine the offensive line.
As recently as 2014, the Green Bay Packers possessed one of the premier offensive lines in football. That group, headlined by the Pro Bowl guard tandem of Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang, played a large role in generating one of the NFL’s top offensive attacks.
In the years since, the offensive line has lost some of its luster. Sitton and Lang have departed for other teams in the division -- though the former could become available again soon -- leaving the Packers to reassemble the O-line with spare parts. One of those pieces, former undrafted free agent Lane Taylor, has played admirably albeit at a lower level than his predecessor. To find their other starter, Green Bay dipped into free agency this offseason.
How acquired: Free agency
Stats: 14 starts
Until the day before the 2017 NFL Draft, the Packers appeared content to replace Lang with either a player already on their roster or a draft pick. Instead, they signed Jahri Evans, a former All-Pro guard with the New Orleans Saints who no other team seemed to have a use for.
Evans manned right guard from the moment he arrived in Green Bay. Despite his advanced age for an NFL player (34), he didn’t miss a snap until after the Packers’ playoff elimination in Week 14. For his meager price, the team received everything they could have asked for and more.
Evans didn’t play perfect football. His lack of mobility limited his impact after the initial block and his pass protection waned as the year progressed. Still, he didn’t force the Packers to worry about Lang’s absence as much as they might have with a less experienced lineman. It remains unclear whether the team plans to re-sign Evans, but he could return to Green Bay for his 13th season.
How acquired: Free agency
Stats: Eight starts, 13 game appearances
Last offseason, the Packers took a flier on Justin McCray, an NFL washout and the twin of former Green Bay guard Jordan McCray. Few anticipated that McCray would have made final cuts in September. Instead, he became the team’s most versatile lineman and key glue piece.
Between practice and the games, McCray played nearly every spot along the offensive line. He spent most of his time in relief of Bryan Bulaga (ACL tear) and Taylor (ankle and knee injuries) and managed to hold it together despite trying circumstances. McCray rarely looked graceful blocking NFL defenders, but he limited big mistakes and allowed the Packers to keep moving forward.
With Evans’ future unclear, the Packers could give McCray a chance to compete for a starting job at right guard in 2018.
How acquired: Signed off practice squad (originally undrafted free agent)
Stats: One game appearance
When injuries decimated the offensive line in the early portions of 2017, the Packers promoted Adam Pankey off the practice squad for depth. Pankey never became more than an emergency option, however, spending most game days on the inactive list. The team will bring Pankey back to see if he can build on his rookie season.
How acquired: Signed off Cardinals’ practice squad
Stats: Five game appearances
Like Pankey, Ulrick John arrived in Green Bay as a depth signing in case more injuries hit the offensive line. However, John saw limited action during his time in Green Bay, appearing in five games and seeing limited action on offense. John never seemed to win over the coaches, who didn’t seriously consider him when Bulaga or Spriggs went down. John has probably played his last game with the Packers.