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Changing of the guard: Is the Packers’ next right guard already on the roster?

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Since the mid-1990s, Green Bay has rarely spent significant draft picks and cap space on the guard position, leaning instead on developmental depth.

Chicago Bears v Green Bay Packers Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

For the second consecutive year, the Green Bay Packers find themselves with a vacancy at right guard in March.

The Packers, rather unconventionally, eventually filled that hole by signing durable veteran Jahri Evans to a one-year contract last April as a stop-gap. Of course, Green Bay wouldn’t shock the world by re-signing Evans to another one-year deal this spring, but nearly 25 years of history suggests Green Bay will look to promote a younger internal candidate — likely Justin McCray or Lucas Patrick — to that position in 2018 rather than seeking a starter via free agency or high draft picks.

Green Bay has turned an impressive number of undrafted and third day draft picks into starters at guard over a stretch of time dating back to Super Bowl XXXI. Since 1995, the Packers have amazingly drafted a guard in the first three rounds in just one draft, when they selected two. That moment came when the team picked Daryn Colledge (a college tackle) and Jason Spitz in the second and third rounds of the 2006 NFL Draft. As a matter of fact, the Packers have only drafted an interior lineman once more in that time frame, selecting center Mike Flanagan in round three in 1996. The team hasn’t drafted a first round guard since Aaron Taylor in 1994.

On the free agency side of things, Green Bay has not gone to the well very often at guard outside of the Evans signing. The Packers drafted Spitz and Colledge after unsuccessfully trying to replace the free agency losses of Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle with external 2005 signings Adrian Klemm and Matt O’Dwyer. Klemm was lackluster in his one season with the team while O’Dwyer didn’t even make the squad out of training camp. Here is a breakdown of the Packers’ internal-heavy moves to replace guards since 1995.

Changing of the Guard, Since 1995

Year Player Out Player In
Year Player Out Player In
1995 LG Guy McIntyre Aaron Taylor (Draft)
1996 RG Harry Galbreath Adam Timmerman (2nd Year Internal)
1998 LG Aaron Taylor Marco Rivera (3rd Year Internal)
1999 RG Adam Timmerman Mike Wahle (2nd Year Internal)
2005 LG Mike Wahle Adrian Klemm (FA)
2005 RG Marco Rivera Will Whitticker (Draft-Immediate)
2006 LG Adrian Klemm Daryn Colledge (Draft-Immediate)
2006 RG Will Whitticker Jason Spitz (Draft-Immediate)
2009 RG Jason Spitz Josh Sitton (2nd Year Internal)
2011 LG Daryn Colledge T.J. Lang (3rd Year Internal)
2016 LG Josh Sitton Lane Taylor (4th Year Internal)
2017 RG T.J. Lang Jahri Evans (FA)
2018 RG Jahri Evans ???

With a descendant of the Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson trees in Brian Gutekunst now in the Green Bay driver’s seat, expect the Packers to continue their patient, developmental philosophy at that position. While it is not unprecedented for the Packers to look outside the friendly confines of 1265 Lombardi Avenue for guard talent (see 2005 and 2006), history favors an experienced internal promotion versus a larger splash.

But that doesn’t mean Green Bay won’t look to the latter portion of the draft this year to begin developing more talent and depth for the future. There have been a healthy dose of anticipated interior lineman picked in rounds four through seven since 1995 and many that have gone on to become starters in Green Bay.

Packer Interior Depth Drafted in Rounds 4-7 Since 1995

Year Round Player College Seasons with at least one start (GB) Total Starts
Year Round Player College Seasons with at least one start (GB) Total Starts
1995 7 Adam Timmerman South Dakota State 1996-1998 48 (RG)
1996 6 Marco Rivera Penn State 1998-2004 111 (LG/RG)
1999 5 Craig Heimburger Missouri
2001 4 Bill Ferrario Wisconsin
2002 6 Mike Houghton San Diego State
2004 7 C/G Scott Wells Tennessee 2004-2011 100 (C/LG)
2005 5 Junius Coston North Carolina A&T 2007 7 (LG/RG)
2005 7 Will Whitticker Michigan State 2005 14 (RG)
2006 5 G/T Tony Moll Nevada 2006-2008 18 (RG/RT)
2007 4 G/T Allen Barbre Missouri Southern 2009 7 (RT)
2008 4 G/T Josh Sitton Central Florida 2008-2015 112 (RG/LG/LT)
2009 4 G/T T.J. Lang Eastern Michigan 2009, 2011-2016 94 (LT/RT/LG/RG)
2010 5 G/T Marshall Newhouse TCU 2011-2013 31 (LT/RT)
2011 6 Caleb Schlauderaff Southern Utah
2013 4 G/C/T J.C. Tretter Harvard 2015-2016 10 (C)
2014 5 C Corey Linsley Ohio State 2014-2017 54 (C)
2016 6 G/T Kyle Murphy Stanford 2017 3 (LT/RT)
2017 6 G/C/T Kofi Amichia South Florida

So what does all of this mean? Well first off, the Packers have gotten a significant number of starts from players drafted in the fourth round and later. Rivera and Wahle — who was an unusual circumstance in his own right as a second round supplemental draft selection in 1998 — combined to make 194 starts. Both were ironmen, starting all 16 games as a duo from 2001-2004. Likewise, Lang and Sitton combined for 206 starts, a vast majority coming as a duo of their own from 2011-2015. While players like Wells, Linsley, Moll, Newhouse, and Tretter settled into the center or tackle positions, Green Bay has gotten plenty of emergency starts at guard from a number of those picks.

Another interesting note is the timing of how quickly drafted guards were able to become starting contributors. Most players on the above list were able to settle into roles by their third season as a pro. Whitticker was a lone ranger in starting 14 games as a rookie, though he probably would have been best served to sit out his first season after an average-at-best campaign. Other players like Lang and Sitton made brief starts as rookies before turning into starters further down the road. Lang may fall more into the category of Rivera and Coston of players that didn’t see their role expand until year three.

Green Bay has a couple of former draftees beginning to enter that same developmental boom or bust period of their career in Kyle Murphy and Kofi Amichia. Murphy, a tackle prospect at this point after being considered for the guard position last offseason, still could see time at the position in his third training camp. Amichia has potential to play a variety of roles depending on his growth and intriguingly draws similarities in terms of raw potential and development to Coston. Still, Amichia is probably a year away.

In that case, an internal right guard replacement could come in the form of a former undrafted player, the type of cost-effective developmental prospect the Packers have benefited immensely from over the past five years.

Green Bay has received starts on the interior of the line from a number of versatile undrafted swing players that they’ve groomed, including Evan Smith, Don Barclay, Lane Taylor, Lucas Patrick, and Justin McCray. While most of these players have served as depth players and spot starters, others like Smith and Taylor have become 16-game starters. There’s reason to believe the Packers could make McCray or Patrick their next interior starter that began time in Green Bay as a diamond in the rough.

McCray proved the ability to fill in at multiple spots on the line last season, but guard may be his more natural fit. His starting experience gives him a leg up on Patrick, who could battle for the position as well in his third offseason with the team. The Packers turned some heads when they released Sitton in favor of starting Taylor two seasons ago. But the move paid off, as the organization knew more about Taylor’s development than the fans. Starting Patrick at right guard would be a similar surprise but time has certainly been invested in the former Duke player that made late-season starts in 2017.

There are a couple of notable free agents at guard this offseason between Carolina’s Andrew Norwell and the New York Giants’ Justin Pugh. There is an elite draft prospect in Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson that could possibly fall into the mid-first round based on need and value of the position. There are also some very talented prospects in the second round range like UTEP’s Will Hernandez that could still be available and serve as a plug-and-play starter like Colledge in 2006.

But based on the Packers’ history dating back to the 1990s, it’s safe to suggest the next starting right guard comes from within.