2017 Packers Previews: OL Still Formidable, But Diminished
It’s been quite a year for the Packers’ offensive line.
Two high level guards are now in two new cities, a former fourth round pick could be the best at his position in the whole league, a former first round pick has finally come into his own, and a six time Pro Bowler has joined the group for one last go-round.
On one hand, that’s just how the NFL works. On the other, it’s a remarkable period of change for a position group that very recently went the better part of four seasons with very little change.
And though the high end talent might be a little thinner than in recent years, overall the group still seems quite deep. There’s little reason at the outset to assume a major dropoff in performance is in the cards.
Veteran to watch: Bryan Bulaga
One of the longest tenured players on the roster, Bulaga put together his finest professional season last year, playing all 16 games for the first time since his rookie year
Given his injury history, it’s worth wondering if he’ll be able to repeat that feat. He’s dealt with a wide range of lower body injuries, and the NFL game isn’t kind to linemen entering the back half of their career.
That said, even if there is some slippage in his play due to age or injury, Bulaga is still a fine player, and his contract runs for three more very affordable years. Keeping an eye on Bulaga is more about appreciating a player who finally hit his stride and hoping it can continue than anything else.
Notable newcomer: Jahri Evans
The supposed “prove it” deal is largely a farce, but in Evans’ case it may not be. He’s been playing on a variety of “prove it” deals for the last several seasons. In New Orleans, the returns have been good. In Seattle, not so much.
As the Packers move into their first season without either Josh Sitton or T.J. Lang, they’ve turned to Evans in hopes that he really can prove something in his first full season outside of New Orleans. If he can, Green Bay should be able to bridge the gap to one of its athletic prospects at the guard position, and Evans may have another shot at a ring.
Biggest question: Will everyone stay healthy?
The last time the Packers faced a serious wave of injuries on the offensive line, the Arizona Cardinals just about pounded Aaron Rodgers into the turf.
Depth may have improved since 2015, but Jason Spriggs did little last year to instill confidence that he could fill in for an extended period of time if the need should arise.
And even if the tackles stay healthy, injuries in the interior might not be so easily sorted out.
Key number: 35
Despite Aaron Rodgers holding the ball forever and a day, he was sacked just 35 times in 2016. That’s the third fewest in any full season he’s played since 2008.