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Vikings’ Ngakoue trade makes Packers right tackle decision even more important

The right tackle spot, a battle between Billy Turner and Rick Wagner, already looked like a potential sore spot for the Packers. A division rival trading for a premier pass rusher only makes that more dangerous.

Green Bay Packers v Detroit Lions
Billy Turner has impressed in camp so far playing right tackle, but has never played a full season there at a high level.
Photo by Amy Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers hope the adage about quarterbacks isn’t true about right tackles: if you have two, you don’t have one. Being able to slot Lane Taylor, a quality guard, in on the right side if Billy Turner wins the tackle job would be boost for depth, but that Turner is competing at all with free agent signee Rick Wagner could be taken as a sign he’s not the obvious choice. With the Minnesota Vikings taking an impressive home run swing in a momentous deal for Jacksonville Jaguars malcontented star Yannick Ngakoue, the pressure to find the right solution at tackle in Green Bay only amplifies.

There’s not much time to get it adjudicated either. The Packers face the rival Vikings in Week 1 with no preseason and a modified training camp, much of which to date Wagner missed with an injury. So that means it’s either a right tackle who has injury issues coming off a down season (with *checks notes* injuries marring his play) or a player who was signed to play guard and who can play tackle but has been inconsistent there throughout his career.

Vikings dynamo Danielle Hunter hardly ever rushes from the defense’s right side (the offense’s left), which was fine for the Packers when they had Bryan Bulaga, one of the best two or three pass-blocking right tackles in football. With Bulaga in Southern California and a battle between Billy Turner and Rick Wagner, Green Bay faces a Herculean task of blocking one of the best pass rushers in football with a worse player than they used to have.

If Wagner, healthy by Week 1, looks like the guy we saw earlier in his Ravens and Lions career, then the Packers can feel somewhat confident, at least to the point of not having to consistently use tight ends and backs to help to his side. If Turner plays like he has shown in camp, Green Bay can likewise rest easier. Those are not small question marks however.

Making matters worse, adding Ngakoue won’t change that matchup on the right side, but will require the Packers to worry far more about David Bakhtiari’s matchup than they otherwise would. If that matchup features Bakhtiari against Ifeadi Odenigbo, Matt LaFleur lets Bakhtiari go solo all day, they slide protection to the right when necessary, and run their offense as normal.

Over 60% of Ngakoue’s snaps came on the right side and considering how often Hunter plays on the left, there’s good reason to believe that number will only increase. For the Packers, that means it’s likely going to be Bakhtiari vs. Ngakoue and Hunter vs. Whoever starts are right tackle.

Bakhtiari can handle his guy 1-on-1 no matter who it is, but we saw Bulaga manage to block Hunter, Khalil Mack, and a cavalcade of quality rushers last year without consistent help. That left the Packers free to send as many pass catchers into the route as they want, without fear of losing matchups on the edge. Neither Turner nor Wagner are likely to play to Bulaga’s level, which will likely require more help, help that can’t be sent to Bakhtiari should he occasionally need it.

That possibility skyrockets with the trade. Ngakoue may be even more dangerous than Hunter, and certainly an upgrade over the departed Everson Griffen. Ngakoue’s pass-rush win rate (21%) bested Hunter (15%) and Griffen (17%) last season, although he benefited from playing with Calais Campbell and a nascent Josh Allen (the good one). He’s slippery, explosive, crafty and boasts underrated power. He’s not as good on the edge as Bakhtiari is protecting it, but it only takes a play here or there to cost the Packers a game.

All of this raises questions about why the Packers haven’t called Jared Veldheer, particularly when he made it clear on Twitter last week he’d be interested in a reunion. He won his matchup with Jadeveon Clowney and the Seattle front in the playoff game last season. He’s a veteran who knows the system and already has the trust of Aaron Rodgers. Particularly in a season threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic, where bodies are at a premium, it makes sense for Green Bay to bring in such a familiar face.

Perhaps Brian Gutekunst will make that call. If they don’t feel confident in a solution on the right side in a week or so, Veldheer takes a plane to Austin Straubel. Don’t be surprised if the same tact follows with Tramon Williams and the cornerback room. Not being able to use preseason games to make these decisions materially hurts Green Bay’s ability to accurately assess what they have, complicating the decision making process.

Without Veldheer, and perhaps even with him, there’s no proven option on that side, a prospect now made more precarious with the arrival of a dynamic pass rusher to test whoever ends up playing that spot.

It will be trial by pass rush fire right off the bat and if the Packers don’t make the right choice—assuming a good one exists—Aaron Rodgers better have a flame retardant jersey.