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Packers 2018 roster prediction: Offensive line brings continuity & depth along with questions

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A deep group of linemen could mitigate questions about health and the right tackle position in particular.

NFL: Green Bay Packers-Training Camp Jim Matthews-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the prediction section of the offseason. Over two weeks, Acme Packing Company will present our overall roster predictions for the Green Bay Packers’ season-opening 53-man roster. Today, we continue with the Packers’ offensive line.

No unit on the Green Bay Packers performs a more essential task than keeping Aaron Rodgers upright. Last year proved that point with frustrating precision. And even when the offensive line does its job, one of the things that makes Rodgers so special, that ability to manipulate time and space in ways no other QB can, puts him at risk when he escapes the pocket.

What we found, though, in the absence of Rodgers was a unit that excels pushing people around in the run game, no matter how is under center or in the backfield. Green Bay finished as the third run offense in the league based on DVOA and fifth in adjusted line yards which measures how often the hogs upfront are not just winning, but pushing defenders back.

This is a group that features familiar starters, the best left tackle in the league, and a critical measure of continuity, something Rodgers has long prioritized with his line. If they can block in the run game the way they did last season, proving balance to this offense, Rodgers has the Houdini skills to manage whatever inconsistencies come from young players having to play on the right side of the line. This should once again be one of the best lines in the league.

Starters

David Bakhtiari, Lane Taylor, Corey Linsley, Justin McCray, Jason Spriggs

Not only did the backfield deal with injuries, but the Packers won a game early in the season starting five guards. Justin McCray played basically every position at one time or another and the Packers churned through right tackles like Drake turns out hit singles. For the APC staff, McCray slots in at right guard, while Spriggs helms the right tackle spot until Bryan Bulaga can get healthy. Our staff believes Bulaga will open the season with Bulaga on PUP, which means Spriggs could have to start some early season contests.

Bakhtiari, Taylor, and Linsley form a terrific trio on the left side while McCray and Spriggs must prove their worth as starters. Mike McCarthy called McCray on the MVPs of the year in 2017 with his ability to line up and play multiple positions. He’s not quite athletic enough with his foot quickness and lateral movement to be a tackle, but he should excel as a guard where this coaching staff has proven it can develop players.

The return of Joe Philbin, who has a background as an offensive line coach, won’t just benefit the playbook. He can help coach up some of these young hosses up front. Showing the ability to get an edge in the run game could be a critical piece because linemen tend to prefer run blocking. If they’re mauling opposing defenders, they can more confidently set in pass protection.

Reserves

Kyle Murphy, Byron Bell, Cole Madison, Lucas Patrick

From there, the depth of this group may be the best its been in the Aaron Rodgers era. Byron Bell has starting experience at multiple positions, as does Kyle Murphy. Lucas Patrick remains a favorite with the coaches in Green Bay if he can stay healthy. And though we have no idea what to expect from rookie Cole Madison, we’re betting on him making the roster simply out of draft status.

If Spriggs struggles, expect Bell to get the first crack at the right tackle spot after Murphy struggled mightily early last season as a pass protector. He was leading the league in sacks allowed weeks after his season ended do to injury. He’s probably better suited to be a guard, but the Packers have plenty of backup players inside.

Madison could end up being a candidate to be cut after Bulaga comes off PUP and end up on the practice squad, though that would certainly be a risk for a draft pick. He took some snaps at tackle in the offseason, which could suggest Green Bay hopes he can be an emergency tackle. Given how often Ted Thompson preferred taking tackles to convert to guard, this type of flexibility has been a hallmark of the franchise.

Released

Kofi Amichia, Austin Davis, Alex Light, Kyle Meadows, Adam Pankey

This will be a battle for practice squad spots though Pankey making the team shouldn’t be seen as a shock.

Amichia may have the best chance of sticking because he’s a former pick and the team likes his athletic ability, but he’s still extremely raw as a tactician. Also, Pankey was the one signed to the practice squad, then promoted to the active roster when the Packers needed offensive line bodies. He has the type of frame Green Bay covets and also has some positional versatility, able to play guard or tackle. James Campen has been rotating Pankey through every guard and tackle spot through the offseason workouts and it’s clear the Packers view him as a tackle even though he was a guard at West Virginia.

Barring something unforeseen, it’s hard to imagine any other name on this list being a factor when the 53-man comes out, but a great training camp and/or preseason could earn one these longshots a chance at a spot on the practice squad.