Fifth in a 10-part NFL draft position-preview series looking at prospects who might be of interest to the Packers. Today: Offensive line.
In a league driven by quarterbacks and their influence on the game, Aaron Rodgers will top the team’s list of most important players for as long as he decides to man the pocket at Lambeau Field. Everyone else in Green Bay is battling for the title of second-best player. At the moment, left tackle David Bakhtiari has arguably the strongest argument of anyone on the roster. He is, at age 26, in the prime of his career and rapidly becoming one of the best left tackles in the entire league. His importance to the Packers cannot be taken for granted. With left guard Lane Taylor and center Corey Linsley both under contract through 2020, the Packers have an offensive line that is 60 percent reliable and secure; it’s the other 40 percent that is a major cause for concern. Veteran Jahri Evans did his job as a one-year stopgap at right guard, but his future both in the league as a whole and with the Packers specifically is unclear. The right tackle spot is just as uncertain with starter Bryan Bulaga recovering from a torn ACL and top backups Kyle Murphy and Jason Spriggs both ending the 2017 season on injured reserve. In other words, the Packers need linemen. And it wouldn’t be a surprise to see general manager Brian Gutekunst draft more than one. Priority level:High
NFL DRAFT PREVIEW: Tight ends who might fit Packers
ISAIAH WYNN, GEORGIA, GUARD/CENTER
6-2¾, 313 pounds
The good: Three-year starter with positional versatility: 21 starts at left tackle and 19 at left guard. Missed only one game the last three years. Shorter frame offset by 33⅜-inch arms and strong hands to freeze rushers. Took practice reps at center to broaden his skill set. Good feet. Wynn is the No. 2 interior lineman behind Quenton Nelson of Notre Dame, who some believe is the most talented player in the entire draft.
The bad: Worked through a torn labrum during the Senior Bowl and had surgery shortly thereafter, so medical opinions will be important. Too short to play tackle at the next level even though he fared well on the edge in college. Could not work out at the combine because of his shoulder surgery.
Projected round: 1-2.
WILL HERNANDEZ, UTEP, GUARD
6-2⅜, 340 pounds
The good: Massive body capable of carrying up to 340 pounds without losing athletic twitch. Plays tough, nasty and through the whistle on every snap. Four-year starter at UTEP with remarkable durability, starting 49 consecutive games. Obvious strength on tape and in the weight room, where he fired off 37 reps on the bench press at the combine.
The bad: Arms are shorter than desired at just 32 inches. Academic issues coming out of high school forced top programs to back off during the recruitment process. Questions about how quickly he will understand an NFL playbook. Straddles the line between aggression and over-the-top physicality.
Projected round: 1-2.
MARTINAS RANKIN, MISSISSIPPI STATE, TACKLE/GUARD
6-4⅜, 308 pounds
The good: Two-year starter at left tackle in the Southeastern Conference. Enough versatility to play all five positions, especially after spending practice time at center during college. Performed well against former No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett in 2016. Top JUCO offensive tackle in the country before committing to Mississippi State.
The bad: Significant ankle sprain limited Rankin to 10 games as a senior and prevented him from playing in the Senior Bowl or working out at the NFL scouting combine. Only two years of major-college football after two seasons Mississippi Gulf Coast Junior College. Lacks elite length for the tackle position and is a few pounds too light for guard at this point in his career.
Projected round: 2-3.
MASON COLE, MICHIGAN, GUARD/CENTER
6-4⅛, 307 pounds
The good: Set the school record for starts among offensive linemen with 51 during a four-year career, never missing a game. Positional versatility with 38 starts at left tackle and 13 at center, though his body type projects as an interior lineman at the next level. Strong character was rewarded when Cole was named team captain as a senior.
The bad: Struggles against powerful players because he lacks strength; at times he seems to get in the way more than actually block. Arm length leaves something to be desired at 32⅛ inches. Must improve consistency as a snapper.
Projected round: 4.
JOSEPH NOTEBOOM, TCU, TACKLE/GUARD
6-5, 309 pounds
The good: Impressive height, weight and length with 34⅜-inch arms. Three-year starter at TCU with experience at left tackle (29 starts) and right tackle (11 starts). Took practice reps at guard even though he never played on the interior during games. Has experience in both a two- and three-point stance.
The bad: Plays too tall in pass sets and allows players with better leverage to dictate the situation. Needs to improve his angles. Struggles to sustain blocks at times. Flagged for false-start penalties a number of times.
Projected round: 4.
Best and bust
The Packers’ best offensive line selection of the last 30 years is probably Bakhtiari, a fourth-round choice from Colorado in 2013. An immediate starter at left tackle, Bakhtiari has developed into one of the best offensive linemen in the league as the blindside blocker for Rodgers. Though he has battled injuries at times — he has appeared in all 16 games three times in five seasons — Bakhtiari continues to improve as he enters the prime of his career.
Among the Packers’ most disappointing selections was offensive tackle John Michels from Southern California, a first-round pick in 1996. Michels, the No. 30 overall selection, won a Super Bowl with the Packers as a rookie and was named to the NFL All-Rookie Team. But Michels played only nine more games for the Packers in ’97 before knee injuries and multiple surgeries ruined his career. He was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles and cut before taking the field.