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Packers Film Room: Time to move Elgton Jenkins back to guard?

Jenkins thrived at left tackle, but he hasn’t looked the same on the right side.

NFC Championship - Green Bay Packers v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

On Monday, Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur stated that he and the team have discussed playing backup left tackle Yosh Nijman at right tackle in an attempt to get their best combination of offensive linemen on the field. There’s a good reason for that: Elgton Jenkins hasn’t been looking good at right tackle.

Jenkins, best known for his versatility across the line of scrimmage, primarily played left tackle last season while David Bakhtiari was rehabbing from a late 2020 ACL tear. He did that well, giving fans hope that Jenkins could be the team’s long-term right tackle following the release of Billy Turner this past offseason.

Unfortunately, the experiment with Jenkins as the right bookend has not been working as one would have hoped through three weeks. According to a Pro Football Focus study, Jenkins has been playing like one of the six worst tackles in the league among qualifying players this season. Yosh Nijman, who like Jenkins has been primarily playing on an island without chip help, has played above average despite what PFF calls “difficulty of assignment.”

PFF isn’t alone in its assessment of Jenkins, either. The pressures he’s allowed in pass protection since he returned at a new position have been clear to anyone who has watched Packers games this season. Several times a game, he struggles in space. It’s quite possible that the best move for the 2022 Packers would be to kick him inside to a guard position, either left or right, and let Nijman try his hand at right tackle.

Left guard is the position Jenkins earned a Pro Bowl nod at in 2020, but is currently a spot played by Jon Runyan Jr., the Packers’ best guard this season. Jenkins playing left guard probably means that Runyan would have to move to right guard, displacing Royce Newman. Newman has started every game since Week 2 of last season, his rookie year, but has been the weakest link of the line for some time. Last week, offensive coordinator and former offensive line coach Adam Stenavich was asked about Newman’s performance, to which Steno responded, “I would still like him to be more consistent and more physical. I’m really hoping in the next few weeks we see that out of him because he has great ability, but we just need to see him take that next step and really get after some people.”

Aside from the left or right guard question, the other thing holding up this move is if Nijman can handle flipping his footwork from left to right tackle. This might be the issue for Jenkins on the right side if he’s not moved to left guard, or it could be an issue for Nijman and/or Runyan if Jenkins is moved back to left guard. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Over the summer, the team claimed that Nijman’s footwork is better at left tackle, but LaFleur mentioned this week that Nijman has been working at right tackle in practices that are not open to the public or the media. In minicamp, Nijman was playing right tackle when starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers was under center and was lining up at left tackle when backup quarterback Jordan Love was under center. In the preseason, though, Nijman lined up at left tackle exclusively.

In Week 1 and 2 of the regular season, Nijman started at left tackle with Bakhtiari inactive for games. In Week 3, Nijman and Bakhtiari split series at left tackle on a drive-by-drive basis. In Week 4, Nijman only played a single three-and-out drive before Bakhtiari told the team his knee was able to handle the rest of the game.

Now that Nijman is freed up from splitting left tackle reps, buzz about him moving out to right tackle is predictable. The final question left is if his footwork will translate to the other side of the line. The only live snaps Nijman has played on the right side in his Packers career were late in the 2021 preseason against the Buffalo Bills, the video linked above. While the coaching staff may see it differently, Nijman looks more natural at right tackle in that clip than some of the snaps we’ve seen from Jenkins this season.

If Nijman is playing like an above-average tackle, it seems like a waste to leave him on the bench as Jenkins struggles at a new position. Many will ask if Jenkins would be willing to move to guard, as there is an assumed money difference between the positions, but high-end guards are currently being paid like high-end right tackles in the NFL. Jenkins, who is in a contract season, should be in a good spot financially, no matter where he plays, as long as he returns to his Pro Bowl form and he’s not playing like a Pro Bowl right tackle so far in 2022.