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Football Outsiders sees reasons for optimism with Packers guard Justin McCray

In part one of our Q&A with FO, we get an outside opinion on the Packers' new starter on the offensive line.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers underwent an offseason of change not seen since 2006. The front office got an overhaul, as Ted Thompson handed over the reins to Brian Gutekunst and several longtime scouts departed. The coaching staff also looks very different after Mike McCarthy made changes at the offensive and defensive coordinator positions.

There are also several spots in the starting lineup that will change from 2017, with some replacements coming internally and others resulting from new player acquisitions. Today, we will look at one of the former situations at the right guard position.

Football Outsiders is known for their excellent work in football analytics, including the advent of the DVOA and DYAR stats (among many others). Once again, the analysts at FO have graciously agreed to hold a Q&A with us at Acme Packing Company, as Scott Kacsmar takes on our questions about the Packers.

Stay tuned for the Q&A series running all week and check out Football Outsiders' website and store, where you can find their 2018 Almanac.

APC: Justin McCray appears to have the inside track to start at right guard this season. How did he perform at guard last season, and what do you believe to be reasonable expectations for him in 2018?

If McCray is only as good as he was last year, then it’s a considerable step down from Jahri Evans. McCray was the only qualified Green Bay lineman to rank outside the top 16 in snaps per blown block. He was 35th while juggling starts at both guard positions and right tackle. Now I think there are several reasons to expect a better season. For one, those eight starts were the first starts of McCray’s career. He had to learn multiple positions on the fly and rarely got to play with Aaron Rodgers. So if they can keep a more experienced McCray focused on just right guard with the right quarterback in the game, then he should play better in 2018. I just wouldn’t give him any high expectations.

It's encouraging to think that McCray can be significantly improved with a full offseason of focus at a single position. Last year he was probably overvalued by the casual fan simply because he was able to perform adequately as an emergency replacement (few if any saw him even making it through final cuts). However, his level of play was little more than replacement-level overall.

Still, McCray might well end up a plus run blocker, and if he can at least be adequate in helping to keep Rodgers upright, that is probably enough. Furthermore, Bryan Bulaga's early return from ACL surgery puts McCray squarely between a pair of veteran players who are among the best pass blockers at their positions (center Corey Linsley being on his other side).

All told, don't expect McCray to contend for an All-Pro honor, but there is reason to hope that he will be solid enough to justify the Packers' decision to allow Evans to fade away towards retirement I stead of bringing him back for another run.

_Stay tuned for part two of our Q&A on Tuesday._