Aaron Rodgers has enjoyed elite protection behind the Green Bay Packers’ talented, well-coached offensive line for years. But with injuries still impacting the two best players on that line and the promotion of Adam Stenavich from offensive line coach to offensive coordinator, there are more questions surrounding this unit than usual heading into 2022. There is also more youth and more versatility, which make projecting any one position exceedingly difficult.
The health of Elgton Jenkins and David Bakhtiari will go a long way towards determining just who stays, who goes, and who finds themselves on the practice squad, and training camp should be a real proving ground especially for a group of interesting rookies. This position group tends to excel because the Packers maintain their depth. They went back to the well in a big way in this year’s draft, and should be well prepared to maintain at least average play, even in a worst-case scenario. If everyone is healthy, this is a league-best unit.
We project nine players to man the trenches to start the 2022 season and expect some stiff competition on the interior.
David Bakhtiari, Jon Runyan, Josh Myers, Royce Newman, Yosh Nijman
While questions continue to surround Bakhtiari’s rehab from his torn ACL near the end of the 2020 season, it remains likely he will be ready to go by the time the season begins. If he’s back to his old self, life will be easier for everyone else, but this situation bears monitoring. Given the length of this rehab and ambiguity with updates, it’s fair to worry about his effectiveness even if he does return.
Jon Runyan is, perhaps, the returning starter with the fewest question marks. While not the flashiest member of the line, he was the most reliable last season, playing in every game as one of only four NFL lineman to record over 1000 snaps without committing a penalty. He will provide a solid anchor as left guard.
Over on the right side of the interior line, we expect Royce Newman to start things off, though he will have stiff competition from the youth. That said, we shouldn’t sleep on Newman as a prospect. While he struggled at times last year and often stood out as the weak link, he did steadily improve as the season moved on and finished near the middle in Football Outsiders’ blown block rate, which isn’t bad for a 4th round rookie. Like most Packer prospects, he’s a plus athlete, a good mover, and boasts a solid RAS. If he manages to take a step forward and fend off challengers, don’t be too surprised.
We see Josh Myers reclaiming the starting center spot after his promising rookie campaign was derailed by a knee injury. Myers was solid and technically sound in the limited action he saw, but it would be nice to see a little more punch at the point of attack.
Finally, anchoring the right side until Elgton Jenkins returns, we see Yosh Nijman scooting over from the left side. Nijman has been a bit of a roller coaster ride at tackle, often putting his considerable physical gifts to good use and wiping out opposing edges, but he occasionally be bullied by the heavies of the league. Some tackles can move from side to side more or less interchangeably, but it can be a struggle for others, and we’re not entirely sure which camp is Yosh’s yet.
Sean Rhyan, Zach Tom, Cole Van Lanen, Rasheed Walker/Jake Hanson
Versatile rookies Sean Rhyan and Zach Tom will almost certainly serve as primary backups and, given the nature of injuries in the NFL, they will likely see time. They’re also the most likely to push the current contingent for their starting positions. Rhyan can play tackle or guard and Tom can do the same along with center. Both players put impressive moments on tape against first round rushers (Kayvon Thibodeaux for Rhyan, Jermaine Johnson for Tom). Both fit the Packer mold of mid-round, athletic, versatile prospects who fell due to some perceived body type slight (arm length for Ryan, weight for Tom) perfectly.
Van Lanen has been running ahead of the rookies so far, and given his versatility at tackle, it’s worth keeping him in mind in parallel with the fate of David Bakhtiari. The second year player out of Wisconsin has been impressive enough early to make a spot likely.
Finally, rounding out the position, veteran Jake Hanson and rookie Rasheed Walker finished in an exact tie in our voting. Walker won the tiebreaker, though the 7th round rookie out of Penn State is still raw around the edges. On a team full of versatile big bodies, Walker stands out as an exception as he can really only play tackle, which may make it difficult for him. Walker was expected to go much higher than he did, and he has some truly impressive tape from his college days, but he is as polarizing to our staff of writers as he apparently was to the NFL world.
Hanson, on the other hand, has had some time to test himself on the interior, and as one of the options as a backup center, he may have more of an edge than some think. That said, as a former 6th rounder entering his 3rd year, there’s less projection left, and he’s Hanson is likely “just a guy” at this point. One of these two will likely find themselves on the practice squad, and for the moment, we see Hanson as the likely odd man out.
After suffering a torn ACL last season, Jenkins looks to return somewhere in the middle of the 2022 season. However, as we learned with David Bakhtiari, these things can be difficult to predict. Still, most ACL tears run a year or less in terms of rehab and most players, especially young players, return to their former selves. For Jenkins, that self is simply one of the best guards in the NFL combined with an excellent tackle on either side and an above average center. There are few, if any, more valuable linemen in the league.
Jake Hanson, Michael Menet, Cole Schneider, George Moore, Caleb Jones
Hanson is the closest call as discussed above, and Green Bay would certainly like to see him back on the practice squad, though he may be attractive to other teams. Menet, a former 7th round pick of the Cardinals out of Penn State, signed a futures deal with the Packers and will likely spend another season trying to create a good impression on the practice squad. Cole Schneider is a “try hard” guy with a killer mustache out of Central Florida. He brings some versatility, but as a UDFA behind plenty of depth, it he faces an uphill battle. George Moore is another UDFA trying to catch on after an unremarkable career at Oregon. He’s shown some success as a run blocker, but pass blocking has been an issue. Finally, Caleb Jones is a monster of a man out of Indiana, coming in just shy of 6-9, and 370 pounds, but that’s all he is.
Monday’s posts will focus on the defensive line position, where a few major additions will serve to shake up the status quo.
Read our roster preview for the offensive line position here.