Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst did his best this off-season to replenish the Green Bay Packers roster. Gutekunst had a lot to do with former general manager Ted Thompson missing on some recent draft picks and of course not utilizing free agency to a high degree. He added quality young depth at cornerback and wide receiver in last year’s draft. But there are still areas that need a lot of work. It appears that outside linebacker will top the Packers off-season wish list. Nick Perry continues to be as fragile as a glass window that is next to a gravel road. It also appears that Clay Matthews might be playing his final games as a Packer as well. While outside linebacker will need to be addressed by the Packers, there is another area that is sorely in need of help. Offensive line is a very close second on the Packers off-season wish list.
Last Sunday night, it was very apparent that the Packers not only need depth on the offensive front, but starters as well. There are a couple of positives on the Packers offensive line. Starting left tackle David Bakhtiari is one of the better starting left tackles in the NFL. Center Corey Linsley looks like he will be a long time starter for the Packers for seasons to come as well.
But after Bakhtiari and Linsley, there isn’t many positives coming from the Packers offensive line. Starting left guard Lane Taylor has battled injuries this season. Even when he has been healthy enough to play, he has struggled. When the former undrafted free agent took over for starting left guard Josh Sitton in 2016 it appeared that he would be an adequate replacement for the former Pro Bowl guard. As a starter, Taylor performed solidly in 2016 and 2017. But this season, like many other Packers, Taylor has struggled. He has really struggled in pass protection. On many occasions, Taylor has been blown up at the point of attack. In his first two seasons as a starter, Taylor handled bull rushers effectively. But this season, much of the opposing interior pass rush has come from his side.
While Taylor has struggled at left guard, the right guard position has been even worse. It appeared that former street free agent Justin McCray was going to be the season long starter at right guard. McCray was utilized as a super sub last season and Packers offensive line coach/run game coordinator James Campen liked what he saw. McCray started the first three games this season. In the Packers first game against the Chicago Bears, McCray struggled mightily against the Bears defensive front. Things got a little better the following two games. But he was injured in week three and lost his starting job to veteran Byron Bell. Still, in the sample size that we saw McCray play it wouldn’t be a stretch to say he isn’t a long term answer at the position.
Bell was picked up this off-season and it appeared that it was a good veteran pick up. But Bell might be playing worse than McCray was. Bell brought a lot of starting experience, at guard and at tackle, to the Packers offensive line. He has the build to be a competent guard, but his size hasn’t matched his play. He isn’t quick enough to block quick twitch defensive linemen. Along with that, even though he has great size, he has struggled against power rushers as well. The fact that he has kept the starting job even while McCray is now healthy, says a lot about McCray.
Give starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga some credit. This season, he has started 11 games for the Packers at right tackle. But while he has started every game this season, he hasn’t been able to finish all of them. Once again Bulaga has been unable to finish games because of an array of injuries. This has been the case for most of his NFL career. When he has played, he hasn’t been overly impressive. It is vital for the Packers offensive line that Bulaga stays healthy. The depth behind him and Bakhtiari is down right awful. Because of his big contract, it would make sense that Bulaga would be a salary cap casualty. But because the Packers are in such need at offensive line, even with Bulaga being so brittle, there isn’t much doubt he will finish out his contract.
While three of the five starters for the Packers offensive have some major questions, the backups are even worse. It appears that McCray is the backup at both guards as well as center. The same McCray who hasn’t been able to get his starting job back from Bell. With how poorly Bell has performed, it is curious why backup offensive lineman Lucas Patrick hasn’t been given a chance to play. But again, that might tell us how good Patrick actually is.
Still, McCray being the top backup at both guards and center is a better situation than what the Packers have backing up Bakhtiari and Bulaga. Jason Spriggs, a former second round draft choice by Thompson, has shown that he can’t be depended on at all.
This season, Spriggs has had to play in ten games, some at left and some at right tackle. No matter the side, the results have been the same. Spriggs has shown that he can’t deal with either power or speed rushers. When Bakhtiari went down last week against the Vikings, Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen dominated the third year tackle. That isn’t a rarity when Spriggs is forced into action. He has struggled not just this season, but throughout his three year career. The Packers have shifted him throughout the offensive line throughout his career. But the results are always the same, at guard or tackle. After three seasons, Spriggs has proven he can’t help the Packers offensive line.
Finding solid offensive line in free agency is nearly impossible to do. Quality offensive linemen are hard to come by. NFL offensive linemen are asked to do much more than college offensive linemen. So when you find one that is capable to contribute right away, teams don’t let them leave. The Packers offensive line depth wasn’t helped out when fifth round pick Cole Madison didn’t report this season. His status is still unknown and there is a good chance, he might never play for the Packers.
Free agency might be out of the question to find help. So it appears Gutekunst will need to look in the draft for help on the offensive line. Gutekunst will need to find a possible starter for right guard. But maybe most importantly, he will need to find a possible replacement for Bulaga. That player will probably also need to be a swing tackle. With the ability to back up both Bakhtiari and Bulaga.
The Packers will have two first round picks in next year’s draft. They will have their own which most likely will be a higher pick. They will also have the New Orleans Saints first round pick. That pick appears it will be a late first round pick. The Packers should spend one of those picks on an outside pass rusher. While the other most definitely should be used on a tackle. If a possible future starting guard falls to them, they will need to think about grabbing that player.
A lot of shortcomings of the Packers have been highlighted out of this disappointing season. Offensive line has been right up there at the front. Gutekunst and his scouting staff will need to put a lot of work reviewing film on offensive line prospects leading up to the draft. The Packers are in dire need of help for the offensive line.