With uncertainty at the right guard position last offseason, the Green Bay Packers entered the 2018 NFL Draft without a clear-cut starter on the roster. Ultimately, they added late-May signee Byron Bell to compete with returners Justin McCray and Lucas Patrick for spot starts throughout the regular season.
But before Bell was signed, there was a dark horse candidate to win the starting role: rookie Cole Madison.
The fifth-round pick from Washington State was a 47-game starter for the Cougars at right tackle and an integral piece of the Mike Leach air-raid offense. Despite having to translate his skills in the spread offense to the pro style of the NFL, there was plenty of hope that Madison could compete for a starting job in training camp or at least an immediate depth role. As has been documented in previous articles, that plan never came to fruition after Madison spent last season on the reserve/did not report list.
But with the news on Monday that Madison is coming back to the Green Bay organization, there is optimism he can still be another critical find for the Packers’ offensive line on the draft’s third day, following in the steps of former players Josh Sitton, T.J. Lang, and David Bakhtiari. While caution must be exercised in Madison’s return from a redshirt year as he gets back up to playing speed, there remains the chance he could become another valuable swingman on the line with Billy Turner sliding in at right guard in 2019.
In fact, “versatility” was the biggest buzz word used by Packers’ scout Sam Seale to describe Madison following his selection last April. Seale felt strongly that Madison could play guard despite making all of his college starts at tackle because of his length, strength, and footwork. He also characterized Madison as a “mean” person on the football field with competitiveness, a trait desired at the guard position. With his experience in a heavy passing system at Washington State, Madison’s pass blocking was favorable for transitioning into the Green Bay system last year.
The reinstatement of Madison, if he can live up to Seale’s scouting report, would be a vital addition to the Green Bay line. But it should not deter the Packers from continuing to add competition up front this draft season, especially at tackle.
Guard has seemingly been solidified with Lane Taylor and Turner entrenched as the current starters, and McCray and Patrick making up the depth behind them. Bakhtiari, Bryan Bulaga, and Jason Spriggs form the team’s top tackle options, along with last year’s undrafted free agent keep Alex Light. Center Corey Linsley will start again in 2019, but the Packers did not carry a true backup center on the roster last season.
Green Bay went with nine offensive linemen on the initial 53-man roster in 2018 and there are 10 names already listed above, counting Madison. Yet, it is imperative for the Packers to begin adding talent to the line with the tackle position exposed in recent seasons and Bulaga entering a contract year. Madison’s ability to help in this role is something that will not be known until training camp, but should not be counted on. Expect the Packers to continue exploring second-day tackle prospects such as Ole Miss’s Greg Little and Washington’s Kaleb McGary who have already made the trip to Green Bay as part of the team’s 30 allowed visits.
Even as Madison’s impact remains unknown for the Packers next season and beyond, his decision to come back to football is a good thing for Green Bay. It is an opportunity for the organization to see what it has in its former fifth-round pick after all, and with some luck that pick could pay dividends in the Packers’ long-term plans as well. But for now, despite many possible roster acquisitions between now and the start of the preseason slate, Madison’s return simply represents the addition of a once-promising young player to a position requiring extra competition.