After a season that tested the Green Bay Packers’ talent and versatility on the offensive line, the Packers rather surprisingly still have a number of questions to answer on the unit as the 2018 season progresses.
Leading off the list is the starter at right guard, where Justin McCray carries the early momentum. Last year’s starter was the successful veteran stop-gapper Jahri Evans, who provided stability on a line that featured at least two starts from nine different players. But with Evans still unsigned, McCray brings the most game experience of returning players with eight starts a year ago after being a revelation in his own right. McCray’s ability to play anywhere on the offensive line makes him a valuable asset, but he figures to battle with two up-and-comers for a starting role at guard. Rising interior role player Lucas Patrick started a pair of games in 2017 and enters his third year in the league, one that has been a leaping point for several former Packer linemen. Also in the running for a more permanent spot on the roster is 2017 sixth round pick Kofi Amichia, a practice squad player as a rookie.
Adding bodies on the offensive line has been an annual draft priority for the Green Bay Packers. The team has selected at least one player in the offensive trenches via the draft each year since 1999, with one exception in 2015, and increased that streak with the selection of Cole Madison in the fifth round this year. Rather humorously, Packers Director of Scouting John-Eric Sullivan mentioned that Madison would “probably start at guard” in his post-pick analysis at the podium. Realizing the question marks at the position, Sullivan laughingly corrected himself, saying, “When I say start at guard, it means the first place he lines up.” Expecting a third day pick to start immediately is a stretch, though Madison has potential to do so down the road and will compete immediately for a spot as a flexible depth player.
Another position Madison is expected to work at is right tackle, a position that is in limbo after Bryan Bulaga’s ACL tear in November. After reportedly refusing a pay cut, the Packers could still choose to cut ties with the former first round pick that will most likely start the 2018 season on the physically unable to perform list. Whether Bulaga stays or goes, the right tackle position will require a reliable option to start at least several games at the beginning of the season.
The duo of 2016 draft picks in Jason Spriggs and Kyle Murphy are the first names on the board after combining for eight starts at right tackle last season despite their own injury-plagued seasons. Murphy appeared to be off to a great start in the first three games before a left foot injury ended his season. Spriggs, meanwhile, remained inconsistent after a forgettable preseason. Still, this author believes Spriggs played better toward the end of the season and as a second round pick should be counted on as a player the Packers will continue to test. Adam Pankey is another young holdover from last year’s squad that found the roster after the plethora of in-season injuries and presents a developmental project at tackle.
Behind the immediate options, the Packers will test a variety of undrafted free agents for roles on the roster, specifically at tackle. Despite the typical addition of draftees, the Packers have routinely found depth for the active roster in the undrafted ranks with players such as Don Barclay, Josh Walker, Lane Taylor, and Greg Van Roten among others. Green Bay particularly emphasized offensive line again this year with four undrafted signings, and they can expect another body to emerge in training camp as a practice squad player or more.
An experienced Pac-12 player, Jacob Alsadek is a player this author personally found promising in the days after the draft as a guard prospect. Kyle Meadows started his final 35 games for Kentucky at right tackle, while Alex Light was a tackle starter for Richmond who showed the ability to shift inside when needed. The Packers also added another interior Duke candidate at center in Austin Davis, going back to the program that produced the fellow interior teammate Patrick. Although Corey Linsley has the center position locked up after signing a rich extension late last season, Davis should battle Dillon Day, a former Denver Bronco, for a spot on the practice squad.
Competition will not only be high at right guard and right tackle throughout the summer, but for a spot on the final 53-man roster. Since 2011, the Packers have kept varying numbers of offensive linemen at the end of final cuts, retaining anywhere from seven to ten players at the position. However, the Packers have kept eight on the final roster in four of the seven years despite hanging on to ten a season ago.
With the number of question marks remaining, it seems plausible to expect Green Bay to stash nine or ten offensive linemen from the list below on to the final 2018 roster. Without a doubt, the line is setting up to be an interesting position of training camp battles.
LT David Bakhtiari
LG Lane Taylor
C Corey Linsley
RG Justin McCray
RT Bryan Bulaga (once cleared)
C Dillon Day
C Austin Davis
C/G Lucas Patrick
C/G Kofi Amichia
G/T Cole Madison
G/T Jacob Alsadek
G/T Alex Light
G/T Adam Pankey
T Jason Spriggs
T Kyle Murphy
T Kyle Meadows