The Green Bay Packers are the friend in every friend group who wants to spend an hour researching the best taco places before ordering dinner. They’re relentless planners, always thinking about the next move. They treat roster building like Marvel treats moviemaking. The roster in 2021 has a very direct relationship to the one in 2023 and it helps to map that out in order to make decisions in the moment. This indefatigable prioritization of the future often leads to criticism of their handling of the present. See: Love, Jordan.
This is particularly evidence at offensive line, yet with Billy Turner entering Year 3 of the four-year contract and David Bakhtiari injured, the Packers have eschewed a longer-term view of tackle with their drafts. Perhaps because the long-term right tackle opposite Bakhtiari already plays in Green Bay, just at another position.
In 2019, the Packers boasted the best tackle duo in the NFL with Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga. So what did they do? They went out and signed Billy Turner to play right guard, drafted Elgton Jenkins to play left guard, and put together the most complete 1-5 offensive line in the league. What we didn’t know at the time was Green Bay told Turner the intention was for him to play some tackle, and to start 2020, with Turner working in with free agent Rick Wagner at right tackle, Elgton Jenkins a soon-to-be Pro Bowl guard, started at that spot in his space.
It’s not hard to extrapolate what happened. The Packers knew Bulaga would command more money than they were willing to pay, so they signed Turner to play that spot eventually, while also finding a use for him in the short-term at guard. That play paid off in enormous ways in 2020, with the team coalescing to form the best pass-blocking group in football even with the injuries.
What Green Bay learned in the meantime is Jenkins can play anywhere. In fact, when the team decided to slide Turner to left tackle with Bakhtiari injured and play Wagner on the right side, some believed the best 5 the Packers could put on the field featured Jenkins at left tackle with Turner at right guard and Wagner at tackle.
Jenkins proved he could play tackle with aplomb. So why not let him? It may not be the case Green Bay drafted him to do the job, but we have some evidence they thought he at least might be able to do it.
After watching Jenkins thrive in an elevated role with Lane Taylor out for the 2019 season, the Packers went into the draft with a serious question mark at right tackle, or at least so we thought. Wagner, who’d been signed in March, wouldn’t likely be the long-term solution and we hadn’t seen Turner play much tackle for the Packers. Not to mention, Russ Ball almost never gives third contracts to offensive linemen, which is why Corey Linsley will likely be playing in another uniform next season.
Instead of prioritizing that spot, a critical place in the line, the Packers waited until Day 3 to tackle an offensive lineman of any kind, and when they did, they selected three interior players. Jon Runyan Jr. played tackle at Michigan, but kicked inside last year and showed surprisingly versatility for a rookie. Aaron Rodgers dubbed him “Mr. Reliable” for his steady play.
In other words, they could have taken an offensive tackle. They didn’t. And considering more offensive linemen take a year or two to acclimate to the NFL—Jenkins is the exception that proves the rule—getting out in front of such a vital need would be part of the Green Bay MO.
Except they didn’t. Reading the tea leaves, that suggests the Packers view Jenkins as the right tackle of the future, even if he’s the left guard of the present, much the way they treated Turner.
Jenkins posted an 87.2 pass-blocking grade in Week 1 vs. the Vikings in his start at right tackle before sliding back to guard. In all, he played 32 snaps at right tackle. In Week 9 against the 49ers, Jenkins slid out to left tackle, where he played 27 snaps and posted a pass-blocking grade of 79.0, one of his better numbers of the season.
He combines the quickness, power, and length needed to play offensive tackle at 6-foot-5 and 311 pounds with 34’’ arms. At Mississippi State, Jenkins played all over the offensive line as well, and as a center, he had to know all the offensive line calls. With Corey Linsley out, Jenkins ended up taking five games worth of snaps at center, which means the Packers trust him to play just about anywhere. Not to mention, in terms of positional value, Jenkins being good at right tackle offers more impact than him being really good at guard even if we assume it’s not his best position.
It could also be that the Packers merely don’t view the individual positions on the offensive line as irreplaceable. They found a suitable guard solution in Jahri Evans, then two solid tackle options via free agency with Turner and Wagner. They have Jenkins in their back pocket, but can find a solid guy for cheap in free agency.
This would only add to the notion Green Bay wouldn’t view tackle as a priority in the draft. Why spend a first or second-round pick on a player when they already have someone on the roster who appears capable of handling the responsibilities, not to mention it’s easier to find interior offensive linemen than tackles? With cornerback a much more pressing need, banking on Turner to finish out his contract, Jenkins to take over, and Bakhtiari to be healthy enough in 2021 to play most of the games makes more sense than investing heavily in new resources.