Over the next two weeks, Acme Packing Company will take a look each position group on the Green Bay Packers and provide insight into how they performed during the 2018 season. Today, we examine the tight ends.
After a strong 2017, even with a plethora of injuries, the Packers seemed to feel confident with the offensive line going into 2018. However, the 2018 season ended up with some mixed reviews. Let’s give a quick overall recap before getting into the individual notes.
David Bakhtiari has taken over the mantle from the recently retired Joe Thomas as the best pass blocker in the NFL and we saw a significant improvement from center Corey Linsley, as well. Lane Taylor and Bryan Bulaga played through various injuries for a good chunk of the season as they held down their respective positions. We also saw the team find a couple of competent backups that could make some waves while looking for a starting position in the future.
The Packers moved on from right guard Jahri Evans in hopes that Justin McCray would take a hold of the position. His play wasn’t anything special and he struggled with injuries. McCray could not get the position back after he was healthy and the Packers turned to Byron Bell, who didn’t fare too well.
Here are some more in depth individual thoughts on the offensive line and the APC grade for 2018:
David Bakhtiari - LT
We’ll start with the easiest player to evaluate on the offensive line. David Bakhtiari is arguably the best left tackle in the NFL today. He gained his first First Team All-Pro selection (he has two Second Team All-Pro selections) this year but was once again absent of the Pro Bowl. If you’re upset about the Pro Bowl snub, don’t be. Bakhtiari doesn’t need to be named to or attend a pointless scrimmage to show that he’s one of the best players in the league. He agrees as well, as he declined to go to the game as an alternate.
Bakhtiari ranked number one by Pro Football Focus in pass protection and while his run grade isn’t as high, it really doesn’t matter. The Packers threw the ball 640 times this season compared to only 333 rushing attempts. Having the best pass blocker in the NFL keeps Aaron Rodgers safe on his blind side and, at only 27 years old, Bakhtiari is hitting his prime as one of the best in the league.
Lane Taylor - LG
Lane Taylor had a subpar year at left guard in compared to previous seasons. Taylor usually has one of the best jobs being sandwiched between David Bakhtiari and Corey Linsley. Those two can cover up for Taylor’s deficiencies as he gets help from Linsley in pass protection but, with the Packers struggling mightily at right guard, Taylor was left by himself in pass pro this year and his weakness showed. He surrendered eight sacks as well as being in the top ten for pressures allowed.
As much as he struggles in pass pro, Taylor’s strength comes in the run game. The double teams by Taylor and Linsley can be a thing of beauty and he opened some massive holes for Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams. He has good power in his steps, gets good leverage on the defenders and can push aside most defensive tackles on his own as well.
However, as I mentioned above, the Packers only had 333 rushing attempts this year, which was fewest in the league. So, the Packers didn’t play much into Taylor’s strengths. To get the most from Taylor going forward, the Packers must address the right guard spot. Then, let being surrounded by two of the best in the league help with Taylor’s weaknesses so he can once again be a valuable cog in the offensive line.
Corey Linsley - C
I think we have an heir apparent to David Bakhtiari as one of the most under-appreciated players in the league in Corey Linsley. Linsley doesn’t get much love in the awards categories but has become one of the best centers in the league. Linsley is the quarterback of the offensive line by getting all the blocking schemes and audibles communicated and blitz recognitions called on the line.
While watching the games, if you hear a voice that isn’t Aaron Rodgers, it’s Linsley. It’s amazing how quickly he recognizes what the defense is doing and gets it communicated. On top of that, he keeps getting better at his run blocking and helps his guards constantly in the pass game. Linsley is in the prime of his career and the Packers have him locked up for two more years. Good stability for Green Bay at the center position.
Byron Bell - RG
Here is where we hit the biggest void of the season for the offensive line. Right guard was a disaster and Byron Bell just happened to be the guy to take the fall for most everything while starting nine games at right guard. Bell looked overmatched at points in every game this year. He was regularly beat in pass protection and didn’t get any push in the run game. To add insult to his poor play, Bell ended the season on injured reserve with a knee injury.
Right guard should definitely be the top focus on improving the offensive line in the offseason. There isn’t much in the free agent pool at the guard spot, with Mark Glowinski re-signing with the Colts, so Brian Gutekunst will need to either focus early in the draft at selecting someone or letting one of the younger players take the reigns similar to how Lane Taylor locked in the left guard spot after Josh Sitton was released in 2016.
Bryan Bulaga - RT
Bryan Bulaga had a typical year compared to most of the years in his career. When he was healthy and playing, he was a very good right tackle. His strength comes in his pass protection. Even with all the knee injuries, he still has a quick kick slide and uses his hands as well as anyone. Bulaga is the grinder who knows where his weakness is and uses his technique and strength to make up for those deficiencies. The biggest kick with Bulaga has been his injury problems. While he started 14 games this season, he was in and out of many of those games with various injuries.
Bulaga has one year left on his contract and is still a very good player. Keeping him around for 2019 should be in the cards due to there being few, if any, free agents who would be as good as him. However, 2019 could be the swan song for Bulaga as he has the younger Jason Spriggs (or a draft pick) waiting in the wings.
Jason Spriggs, Tackle
While struggling for his first few seasons after being a second round pick in 2016, Jason Spriggs seemed to have turned the corner in the right direction this past season. Spriggs started two games at right tackle and filled in for injuries in 13 games overall, including some snaps at left tackle. The right side definitely fared better for Spriggs as he didn’t look like he had the chops to protect from the left side too well. That doesn’t seem to be a big deal though as Bakhtiari doesn’t look to let go of the left tackle spot anytime soon.
While Spriggs still didn’t look like as good as the starters when he played, he has adapted to the NFL over the past few seasons and has shown some promise to possibly taking over at the right tackle spot whenever the Packers move on from Bryan Bulaga. Hopefully, he continues to make progress under new offensive line coach Adam Stenavich otherwise he’ll be destined for a swing tackle role if he sticks around after his contract expires next season.
Lucas Patrick, Guard
Lucas Patrick seems to be progressing similarly to Jason Spriggs. He started slow in his first couple seasons and now has developed into the top reserve for the interior of the offensive line. While he played well in his limited starts, you can see that he needs to improve his footwork and pass blocking to get a permanent starting spot. Patrick started two games at right guard and two games at left guard throughout the season.
He has a similar style to Lane Taylor where he is a better run blocker but, being inside, he can have some cracks in his pass protection as he will get help from the center depending on the call. His versatility in the interior makes him valuable and follows a similar path as past reserves who stepped into a starting position.
Justin McCray, Guard
Justin McCray had a tough 2018. McCray looked to be the next young player to step up and take hold of an open position but injuries got in his way. He started the season at right guard but was replaced by Byron Bell after a shoulder injury in the week three loss to Washington. He got a couple more starts throughout the year but didn’t live up to his strong 2017.
The nice thing about McCray is that he is still young and can right the ship. Best case scenario, his experience will give him the opportunity to start fresh and impress Adam Stenavich into considering him for the right guard spot again in 2019. Worst case, he will provide a competent interior backup that will fill in where needed.
Gerhard de Beer, Alex Light, Adam Pankey, Nico Siragusa, Cole Madison
These five got little to no playing time in 2018. Alex Light and Adam Pankey got a few snaps here and there but nothing significant. The bright spot is the Packers seemed high on those two at the end of the year and will bring good competition for the reserve positions.
Gerhard de Beer, who easily wins the best name on the team award, and Nico Siragusa were signed late in the year and will look to make some noise in OTAs and training camp. Cole Madison never reported to the team due to personal issues. Hopefully, he gets those issues taken care of and can show people why the Packers took him in the fourth round last year.
OVERALL GRADE: B-minus
The Packers offensive line has some mixed results throughout the 2018 season but they were definitely not a black eye for the offense. They did struggle giving up 53 sacks this years, but they also did have Aaron Rodgers holding onto the ball longer than usual and they also threw the ball the third most times in the league.
Even with the fewest rushing attempts in the league, they paved the way for the running backs to average five yards per attempt, the second highest yards per attempt in the league. Sure a lot of that might be due to Aaron Jones breaking some huge gains but he’s not getting all those yards without someone opening holes for him.
While the right guard position was the weak point, the rest of the starters stayed healthy most of the year and we saw Jason Spriggs and Lucas Patrick prove to be quality backups. The future remains fairly solid for new offensive line coach Adam Stenavich. He will have to find a replacement at right guard but the rest should be around in 2019. One thing is for sure: another year of the majority of the offensive line returning means a strong cohesion going forward.