At the moment, the odds-on favorite to win the Green Bay Packers’ Week 1 battle at right tackle is Yosh Nijman, who was originally signed by the team as an undrafted free agent in 2019. The team’s 2021 starter, Billy Turner, was let go by the team with a failed physical designation this offseason, which very well could have been a cap-related move, and Elgton Jenkins, a 2020 Pro Bowler who has played all five offensive line spots for the Packers, is still recovering from an ACL tear that occurred in Week 11 against the Minnesota Vikings.
Many have tabbed Jenkins — who almost exclusively played left tackle for Green Bay in 2021 with starter David Bakhtiari recovering from a 2020 ACL tear — as the long-term right tackle answer for the Packers, but chances are that his recovery will involve a stint on the physically unable to perform list. When a player is placed on the PUP list, he is ineligible to return to the team before Week 7 but also does not count against Green Bay’s 53-man roster count during that time.
The optimism for Jenkins taking over at right tackle, when healthy, stems from his stellar performance as Bakhtiari’s replacement last year along with the fact that he actually started Week 1 in 2020 at right tackle while Turner was dealing with a knee injury. Unlike Jenkins, Nijman has relatively little experience at right tackle, which should come with at least a degree of worry.
The topic of assuming offensive linemen can mirror their footwork from left to right (or right to left) was a fairly hot-button topic last preseason. The case study was 2021 seventh overall pick Penei Sewell, who struggled at right tackle in the preseason before eventually finding his footing at left tackle — his college position — after an injury to the Detroit Lions’ Taylor Decker.
“It is not that easy,” Sewell said on Day 3 of organized team activities. “Man, it’s a whole different feel. Again, it’s like, let’s say I’m right-handed so I’ve been writing right-handed my whole life, and then one day you’re just asked to write your full name left-handed at full speed, the same speed that you write with your right hand. So yeah, it’s a little bit of an adjustment.”
Duke Manyweather — who trains draft prospects and NFL linemen alike and is the founder of the OL Masterminds summit — took to Twitter this offseason to raise concerns about the same topic, specifically in the context of the New York Jets’ signing of former San Francisco 49ers guard Laken Tomlinson.
It’s idiotic and OL doesn’t work that way https://t.co/KizZXL8K11— Duke Manyweather (@BigDuke50) March 14, 2022
Name me a few significant free agent signings that played the majority of their career as right side or left side player on the OL, then switched sides and had the same level of success… https://t.co/hH0VIbv3L5— Duke Manyweather (@BigDuke50) March 14, 2022
Like Jenkins, who started at right tackle as a freshman at Mississippi State, Nijman also started one year of college football at right tackle: his senior season of 2018. Unlike Jenkins, though, Nijman’s only action at the position as a professional has come in the fourth quarter of a single preseason game in 2021. In three years of preseason and regular season play for the Packers, Nijman’s true pass protection snaps at the position can be condensed into the 1:10 video below.
Nijman made huge strides last season, gains that will likely get him paid like a borderline starting tackle when he hits unrestricted free agency in 2023, but they came on the left side, not the right. Can he translate that success to the other side of the offensive line? Some linemen have been able to and some have struggled with it.
During open sessions at minicamp, the Packers had Nijman practicing at right tackle (with Cole Van Lanen playing left tackle) when starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers was under center. Prior to minicamp, when Rodgers was skipping voluntary workouts, Green Bay had been getting Nijman reps at left tackle with Jordan Love at quarterback. This is notable, as the left tackle role will likely be retaken by Bakhtiari, who the staff has repeatedly said should be ready to practice again by training camp.
Green Bay made three offensive line selections in the 2022 draft, UCLA’s Sean Rhyan, Wake Forest’s Zach Tom and Penn State’s Rasheed Walker, but the trio has yet to break the lineup with the first-team offense in open practices. Unless someone takes the job from him, it appears that Nijman has the inside track for the right tackle gig until at least Jenkins returns to the field.
Being able to make statements on how he’ll do on the right side, though, is tough when he only has a handful of plays on tape and is even still splitting practice reps on both bookends. There’s maybe no more important “open” position to keep tabs on this summer than the right tackle slot. The Nijman right tackle experiment is just that, as we have no data points on him there, and it’s anyone’s guess as to which direction it’ll turn.