Over the next two weeks, Acme Packing Company takes a look at each position group on the Green Bay Packers and provides grades and insight on how they performed in the 2020 season. Today, we examine the offensive line.
Last offseason, the Packers were forced to make a difficult decision in parting ways with longtime veteran right tackle Bryan Bulaga. The decision in itself was understandable, but Green Bay’s replacement plan for Bulaga was far from concrete. Would the Packers look internally? Would Jared Veldheer be re-signed? Was there a draft pick on the horizon or another external acquisition?
The answer to that question ended up being a little bit of each, especially when Veldheer was signed for depth in the postseason. The intended week one lineup involved Billy Turner moving over to right tackle, with Lane Taylor winning the right guard role. Those plans quickly changed as Taylor was lost for the season in the first game and the line was forced to shuffle. Further injuries to Turner, David Bakhtiari, and Corey Linsley over the course of the season meant that the Packers’ depth would be tested extensively.
Still, despite the adjustments, the line was impressive for the grand majority of the season in both pass protection and opening holes for a steady run game, using six starting combinations. And while two losses to Tampa Bay were the only true blemishes on the unit’s 2020 performance, the future continues to look bright for a group that should mostly stay intact.
Starters: David Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins, Corey Linsley, Lucas Patrick, Billy Turner
It was almost rare to see the Packers boast the same starting offensive line from week-to-week, and it took until Week 13 for the unit to begin a streak of games (three) in which the starters were able to make it through 100 percent of the snaps. Injuries beat up the starting cast, particularly its most notable names. Turner missed the first two weeks before knee injuries sidelined Linsley for three weeks in the latter portion of the season and Bakhtiari for the rest of the year ahead of a Week 17 matchup with Chicago. Still, the versatility of the second-year Jenkins, who played four different positions in 2020 alone, helped stabilize the line. Meanwhile, the Packers’ patience in Patrick’s development paid off in a big way in year four. A position that could have been a disaster at multiple times during the campaign turned into one of the team’s greatest strengths.
Jenkins led the group in snap counts, playing over 99% of the team’s offensive snaps. He was followed by Patrick (90%) and Turner (85%), with Bakhtiari (72%) and Linsley (70%) falling behind due to the aforementioned injuries.
Jenkins and Bakhtiari would go on to earn Pro Bowl nods, while Bakhtiari and Linsley garnered first-team All-Pro accolades. That three-man core played a critical role for a line that allowed a miniscule 21 sacks, a number tied for second-best in the NFL. It is little surprise, therefore, that Green Bay led the league in pass-block win rate at 74%, according to ESPN. The Packers also ranked in the top three, according to Pro Football Reference, in hurries allowed (33), times Aaron Rodgers was hit (28), and total pressures (82). That type of protection was instrumental in allowing Rodgers time to throw (2.4 seconds per dropback) and be comfortable enough to wait on plays to develop without scrambling outside the pocket as he had been accustomed.
It is also no small feat that all starting members of the line ranked among their position’s best in pass-block win rate.
- Linsley - 5th among centers
- Patrick - 6th among guards
- Jenkins - 9th among guards
- Turner - 3rd among tackles
- Bakhtiari - 6th among tackles
The same hype can be applied to the unit’s run-blocking performance, which also led the league in run-block win rate (74%). The line ranked eighth in total rushing yards (2,118) and tied for fifth in yards per carry (4.8). Linsley won his run blocks at a league-best 77% clip among centers, while Bakhtiari ranked 10th among tackles at 79%.
Backups: Rick Wagner, Jon Runyan, Yosh Nijman, Lane Taylor, Ben Braden
Almost qualifying for the starters section of this piece was Wagner, who did, in fact, start nine games over the course of the season. Wagner appeared in 58% of the team’s offensive snaps and also joined the crew above in ranking eighth among NFL tackles in pass-block win rate. While speed rushers gave Wagner some fits, he filled in fairly admirably as a primarily right tackle replacement and may have been one of the team’s most important free agent signings last offseason.
An exciting summer for Lane Taylor was cut short after one game due to the team’s knee injury bug. It was the second season in a row that Taylor was lost within the first two games of the season, sending the team scrambling quickly. Injuries to Taylor and others paved the way for the rookie Runyan to make his NFL debut. The sixth-round pick appeared immediately in Week 1 and would go on to appear in all 16 games, spending time with the line on 15% of the offense’s snaps. From a trio of sixth-round offensive line selections in the draft, Runyan emerged as the most likely to fill an important role next season. A raw developmental project in his second season, Nijman only played 14 offensive snaps, but joined Runyan as a special teams piece. A journeyman since 2017, Braden was signed to the practice squad in late October and joined the traveling roster for four regular season games, primarily with a special teams role.
Overall Grade: A
Versatility, no excuses, and a next-man-up mentality defined the Packers’ offensive line during the 2020 season and earned them an A among APC’s writers. A cohesive group was able to keep Rodgers largely upright and injury-free throughout the season, no doubt an integral factor behind his MVP success. The group’s performance against the Bucs’ edge rushers will leave a bitter taste in the mouth of Packers’ fans this offseason, but a healthy Bakhtiari alone may have changed the complexion of that game. This group was as solid as any around the league and the stats backed it up.
Bakhtiari and Jenkins figure to contend for All-Pro honors the next few seasons as they continue to anchor the line, while the bounce-back season from Turner provides optimism for stability at both right tackle and guard depending on the unit’s alignment in 2021. Filling an anticipated vacancy at center will be difficult with Linsley coming off an All-Pro season of his own, and any internal replacement will test the team’s flexibility at all three interior positions. But based on the offensive line’s ability to adapt this past season, it is hard to bet against them having another great campaign.