The versatile Billy Turner is one of the Green Bay Packers’ key departures this off-season, who spent most of the past two seasons at right tackle. Turner’s release means the Packers have lost not only their starting right tackle but a valuable veteran capable of playing any spot on the line.
Elgton Jenkins may be the right tackle of the future after impressing on the left side, but he’s still in recovery following a mid-season ACL tear. Thankfully, Brian Gutekunst has invested heavily in the offensive line in his past three drafts, and the team has plenty of options competing for that Week 1 starting right tackle spot.
After paying David Bakhtiari a 4-year, $92 million contract, it seemed like the Packers had left tackle locked in for years to come. But after suffering a freak injury in practice on New Year’s Eve 2020, they lost one of the best tackles in the game. Unfortunately, Bakhtiari played in only one game in 2021 and is still participating in the rehab group as of OTAs.
Matt LaFleur acknowledged this on Tuesday, saying, “Our plan all along was to hold him from this and get strong and hopefully be ready to go for training camp.”
Ideally, this is what it says on the tin, and the team is being careful with the All-Pro tackle. But injuries like this can be tricky. Is there a chance Bakhtiari could miss the start of the season? If so, both starting tackle spots would be open. Who could we see bookending the Packers’ offensive line to start the season?
Regardless of whether there are one or two starting tackle spots, Yosh Nijman has to be considered the favorite for one of them. Nijman is an athletically gifted big man with the traits to succeed — the type of player the Green Bay coaching staff loves. After coaching Nijman up the past few seasons, the team was rewarded for their development and patience when they thrust the former Hokie into the starting role following Jenkins’ injury.
Nijman performed admirably against some of the league’s fiercest pass-rushers and more than held his own. It’s fair to wonder whether the Packers would have a deeper playoff run if the coaching staff hadn’t benched Nijman against the San Francisco 49ers.
He’s disappointed he couldn’t start in that playoff game, but Nijman isn’t bitter. He’s ready to embrace this opportunity.
Nijman’s NFL experience is all at left tackle. If that spot is open, he certainly will be the favorite to the open the season. He has experience protecting Aaron Rodgers‘ blindside, and there’s a sense of trust there after last season.
Nijman opened Tuesday’s team activities at left tackle, so it seems the team agrees. But if Bakhtiari is good to go for training camp, he’ll also get a fair shot at the right side. Nijman will need to mirror what he’s learned, but he certainly has the skills to do well there.
A converted tackle, Newman may get the chance to play his collegiate position. He started OTAs at right guard, the spot he manned as a rookie, but also saw snaps at right tackle. Newman will need to fight off the rookies for a starting line spot in general, and having two available spots is a boon for his chances. However, it may be best for Newman to focus on a singular role to build on his rocky rookie year.
Sean Rhyan may be the most promising third-round pick the Packers have made recently. He has a solid chance to be an instant starter on the line at either right guard or right tackle. Rhyan’s best projection is at guard, where he has the talent to be a starter for the next decade, but he played tackle in college and will get a chance to stay there. Rhyan checks a ton of boxes for the Packers and has a high draft pedigree. He’ll get a fair shot.
Rhyan’s fellow draftmate Zach Tom is in a good position to compete for a starting job as well. Tom played both left tackle and center at Wake Forest, giving him a different, more versatile mindset than your average Packer lineman. He could theoretically get a shot anywhere along the line. While Rhyan projects mostly as a guard with tackle experience, Tom could be a dedicated tackle at the pro level. With left tackle experience, he’s likely the only name on this list that could give Nijman a challenge on that side of the line.
Wisconsin’s own Cole Van Lanen seems to be in the mix for right tackle as well, and he opened OTAs as the starter there. CVL has largely been a forgotten name after spending most of his rookie season on the practice squad. He was elevated to the active roster for one game and played one snap, but he’ll get his chance to compete. Even as a former sixth-round pick, a year on the practice squad gives him a slight advantage over the rookies as we head into training camp.
Bakhtiari’s status will be the top story to monitor as we enter training camp, and it will have a domino effect on the rest of the line. Whether Green Bay has one or two starting tackle positions to fill for Week 1, they have plenty of intriguing options, and the offensive line battles should be fascinating.