Fifth in a 10-part Packers draft position-preview series: Offensive line.
GREEN BAY - For the Packers, the hard part is over.
Teams search for what can seem like forever in hopes of finding a franchise left tackle. In David Bakhtiari, the 109th overall pick in the fourth round of the 2013 draft, the Packers have found the rarest of gems. A first-team All-Pro last season, Bakhtiari became only the second left tackle drafted after the first two rounds to receive such distinction since 1984.
He isn’t the only strength on the Packers' offensive line. Corey Linsley, who hasn’t missed a snap since 2016, has proven himself to be an anchor in the middle.
Securing an elite blindside blocker and quality center are critical pieces in building an offensive line. Now, the Packers must secure the rest.
Ideally, left guard Lane Taylor would bounce back from a disappointing 2018, struggles that were fueled at least in part by offseason ankle surgery, and return to the steady form he showed the year before. And Bryan Bulaga, the now 30-year-old right tackle, would make it through a full season without injury problems. But neither are certainties.
Then there’s the glaring hole at right guard, the vacancy the Packers appeared to fill when they signed Billy Turner to a four-year, $28 million contract in free agency. The deal was so rich it surprised many in the industry, including his former team. The Denver Broncos, whom Turner started 11 games for last season, were reportedly interested in re-signing him until his market grew too expensive. Notably, the Minnesota Vikings, who dearly need offensive line help and are located in Turner’s hometown, also passed on pursuing him on the open market.
If the Packers overpaid for Turner, they did not do so for him stand on the sideline. While general manager Brian Gutekunst left his options open with what position Turner will play, it’s clear the Packers intend to give him snaps. The path to least resistance would be plugging Turner in at right guard, but he’s also capable of playing tackle, allowing the Packers to be flexible.
Behind the starters, the Packers have experienced if sometimes shaky depth. Justin McCray was unable to retain his starting chance last year, an opportunity he earned by playing well as a backup in 2017. Lucas Patrick has played 26 games and made six starts in the past two years, and though he’s limited in pass coverage, he’s maybe the toughest player in the locker room. Jason Spriggs has yet to reward the Packers for trading up in the second round to draft him in 2016.
The Packers also welcomed back Cole Madison, a fifth-round pick who took a year away from the game for personal reasons. By this point, the Packers hoped Madison would have secured the starting right guard position. Perhaps they wouldn’t have signed Taylor this offseason if they had. Maybe Madison will step right in and showcase the athleticism that first enticed the Packers to draft him, but that can’t be counted on after a year without football.
Priority level: Medium.
The Packers fall short of desperation, but they are clearly in the business of upgrading their offensive line this spring.
Bulaga is not going to play forever. His injury history is lengthy enough to wonder whether he’ll even play much longer. If the Packers are intent on Bulaga being their starting right tackle in the final year of his contract, they need to be ready for the possibility — if not likelihood — he won’t hold that spot a year from now.
They might plan for Turner to ultimately be that replacement. But then the Packers would leave open a hole on their interior. And it’s possible Taylor’s struggles will continue in 2019. So drafting a guard also could be an option.
Ultimately, Gutekunst is in a position to stay true to his draft board. He doesn’t specifically have to take a tackle or guard, but rather the best offensive lineman available. From there, he can let the pieces fall where they may. That’s an advantageous spot, especially given the multitude of needs elsewhere on the Packers' roster. But with an aging quarterback, bolstering the offensive line will be a priority.
OT Andre Dillard, Washington State
The good: Started four seasons at left tackle. Projects as a blindside blocker but could offer instant upgrade in pass protection for a team already set on the left side. “Best tackle in the draft,” one scout called him. Fluid blocker with tremendous speed and pass protection potential. Got plenty of pass blocking experience in Washington State’s “Air Raid” offense. Not just an athlete, also technically sound. Took a predraft visit with the Packers.
The bad: Faces significant transition as a run blocker because of his college scheme. Not an elite finisher. Arm length of 33½ inches a little shorter than standard. Lack of refinement as a run blocker could be a concern if a team drafts him to play right tackle.
G/T Cody Ford, Oklahoma
The good: Versatile lineman capable of playing tackle or guard. Began college career at guard but started 14 games at right tackle last season. “Ford’s a right tackle,” one scout said. Helped by 34-inch arms, meeting standards needed to play on the perimeter. Tremendous athleticism to go with ideal size. “You could probably argue he would be better at guard,” another scout said, “but he has a chance to be pretty good at tackle as well.”
The bad: A raw prospect, especially in pass protection. Good athleticism but can still be beaten by speed rush. Not yet the sum of his parts.
RT Dalton Risner, Kansas State
The good: Began college career at center, but moved to right tackle after one season. Named first-team All-Big 12 each of final three seasons. Earned second-team All-American honors last year. Already demonstrates polished technique. A heady blocker.
The bad: Not the swiftest athlete. Needs to be better against speed rush at next level. Overall consistency needs work.
T/G Kaleb McGary, Washington
The good: Four-year starter at right tackle. Earned first-team All-Pac 12 honors in final two seasons. Good character, has overcome tremendous adversity off the field. Finishes blocks at high level.
The bad: Limited athlete despite adequate 40 time (5.05) for his size. Can struggle blocking speed on the edge. Might not have the leverage to play tackle in the NFL. Only 32⅞-inch arms might mean move to guard in his future.
G Chris Lindstrom, Boston College
The good: Started 11 games at right tackle in 2017 but moved last season to guard, where he’ll play in the NFL. Possesses ideal athleticism for zone-blocking scheme. Ran a 4.91 40 at the combine. Good blocker in space.
The bad: Has the athleticism to crack the first round but isn’t an elite prospect. “I don’t think he’s Zack Martin or Quenton Nelson or one of those guys,” a scout said. Doesn’t possess top-end power as an interior, downhill blocker.
Under former general manager Ted Thompson, the Packers were known for plucking midround gems for their offensive line. Bakhtiari (fourth round), Linsley (fifth round), Josh Sitton (fourth round) and T.J. Lang (fourth round) all became longtime starters. However, they have been less consistent picking early-round linemen. Bulaga, a first-round pick in 2010, certainly has justified his 23rd overall selection, becoming one of the NFL’s top right tackles in the past decade. But the Packers also traded up in the second round for Spriggs, who hasn’t panned out, and a broken leg derailed 2011 first-rounder Derek Sherrod’s career. Should the Packers just stick to their sweet spot in this draft? It likely depends on what they need. If it’s a right tackle Gutekunst covets, his best chance at success might be to draft one early. Though there are a handful of talented tackles this spring, the group isn’t particularly deep. Guard is the inverse, with the class lacking top talent but offering depth for the middle rounds. Interestingly, the Packers have not drafted a pure guard since 2011. Their preference has been to draft tackles and transition them to guard, believing their athleticism is better suited for interior pass protection.
Recent draft history
Year, Round, Overall: Player, School
2018, 5, 138 overall: Cole Madison, Washington State
2017, 6, 212 overall: Kofi Amichia, South Florida
2016, 2, 48 overall: Jason Spriggs, Indiana
2016, 7, 200 overall: Kyle Murphy, Stanford
2014, 5, 161 overall: Corey Linsley, Ohio State
2013, 4, 109 overall: David Bakhtiari, Colorado
2013, 5, 122 overall: JC Tretter, Cornell
A glance at what year the Packers' players at the position are signed through and their age on opening day:
T/G Billy Turner (27)
G Cole Madison (24)
LT David Bakhtiari (27)
C Corey Linsley (28)
G Lane Taylor (29)
RT Bryan Bulaga (30)
T Jason Spriggs (25)
G Justin McCray (26)
G Lucas Patrick (25)
T Alex Light (23)
G/T Adam Pankey (25)
G Nico Siragusa (24)
T Gerhard de Beer (25)
G Anthony Coyle (22)