Jason Spriggs was a bust. At this point, that is hardly a controversial statement. But high draft picks who bust out of the NFL usually leave a massive hole on their team’s roster, and the Green Bay Packers are in about as good a position as possible to accommodate Spriggs’ departure on Tuesday.
That’s because Spriggs was a draft pick at a position where the Packers were already strong in the starting lineup: offensive tackle. David Bakhtiari is arguably the league’s best left tackle (and certainly the best pass-blocker at the position) while Bryan Bulaga remains a steady, consistent right tackle when healthy. Even as a second-round pick, Spriggs was always intended to be a backup early on, a player who could fill in for one of those two players if they went down with an injury. The eye on Spriggs potentially filling a starting spot was always a few years down the line.
Here we are, a few years down the line from his selection, and Spriggs was still a backup behind those same two players. Perhaps if Spriggs had developed into a starting-caliber player, the Packers might have moved on from Bulaga in 2019, the final year of his contract. But now they appear to have a different long-term plan for that position, likely involving Billy Turner moving out from guard to tackle and Elgton Jenkins plugging in at Turner’s old spot.
So what is the short-term impact of Spriggs’ release? It relies solely with the backup options behind the two starting bookends. The Packers now come into 2019 with five combined games of NFL experience in their backup tackles: three for Alex Light and two for Adam Pankey. Behind them sit Gerhard de Beer, who spent time on the practice squad a year ago, and rookie Yosh Nijman, a rookie out of Virginia Tech.
Furthermore, every one of those backup tackles is an undrafted player. Pankey came out in 2017, Light and de Beer in 2018, and Nijman this year. Between those four, the Packers must find a capable backup whom they feel comfortable about making an occasional spot start or two.
The situation on the outside is much more dire than it is on the interior of the offensive line. There, the team has veteran players like Lucas Patrick and Justin McCray, both of whom have started several games over the past two years. The players without NFL experience — Elgton Jenkins and Cole Madison — are both draft picks, with the former being selected in round two this April.
Light will likely get the first shot to replace Spriggs as the team’s number one backup swing tackle. Since Spriggs first went down with an injury this summer, Light has been taking the reps as the number two left tackle behind Bakhtiari, and it appears that he will be in line to start on Thursday when the Packers open up their preseason schedule against the Houston Texans. Pankey may well be starting on the right side as well, as Bulaga will surely take a seat for the first exhibition game.
Meanwhile, de Beer and Nijman will need good showings in the second half to demonstrate that their game is more than just exceptional athletic ability. After all, Spriggs had that, with an elite RAS of 9.78, serving as a reminder that having great athleticism does not necessarily translate to being a great player. De Beer, meanwhile, posted a 9.44, with Nijman coming in at 9.81 (a number that would have gone to a perfect 10 if using his Pro Day 3-cone time instead of that from the Combine).
De Beer, the former track and field athlete from South Africa, has had the benefit of a few months on an NFL practice squad and a full offseason in Green Bay, while Nijman came to Green Bay in early May. But with one obstacle to a roster spot no longer in their way, the odds of one of these athletes landing on the opening 53-man roster just increased.
One way or another, the Packers need one of these four former undrafted tackles to step up in a big way to give the team confidence in the depth behind their veteran tackles. Thursday will be the first real opportunity for them to do so.