Jon Meerdink: What Happens if David Bakhtiari Gets Hurt?

Hours before the Packers and Vikings met at Lambeau Field, David Bakhtiari’s status for the de facto NFC North title bout was still uncertain. Both teams were 10-5 and a home playoff game was on the line.

Bakhtiari had missed the previous week’s game with a knee injury and it showed. Without their steadfast left tackle, the Packers’ offensive line was in shambles against Arizona’s formidable front seven. As a result, Aaron Rodgers spent most of the game flat on his back.

Though no one on the offensive line could really claim to have played a good game, Bakhtiari’s backup may have had the worst of it. Don Barclay was blamed for 4 ½ sacks that day, and with Minnesota’s Anthony Barr licking his chops at the prospect of shot after shot at Aaron Rodgers, Barclay had to have been praying for Bakhtiari’s speedy recovery.

It wasn’t to be. Bakhtiari was ruled out on gameday, and the Packers took the unusual step of kicking All-Pro left guard Josh Sitton to tackle, hoping for a better result.

The move didn’t pan out. Sitton was hampered by injury and out of position and the Vikings sacked Aaron Rodgers five times that day. The 20-13 loss sent the Packers on the road to start the playoffs, and though they won in Washington, poor offensive line play down the stretch run was a black mark on the season.

Bakhtiari hasn’t missed a game since, but the debacle at the end of the 2015 season remains a looming spectre fueled by one imposing reality: the Packers have nobody who can replace David Bakhtiari.

Depth at tackle is a huge issue

Much has been made of the departure of Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang over the past ten months, but the loss of two starting guards didn’t happen without a plan. The Packers’ front office had well-placed faith in Lane Taylor in the Sitton move, and Lang’s replacement, Jahri Evans, performed well enough last year to seemingly indicate a good chance at success as a free agent signing this year.

But there seems to be no such plan in place behind Bakhtiari. Currently, Jason Spriggs is the only full-time tackle on the roster backing up either Bakhtiari or Bryan Bulaga, and his performance in limited reps last season (though mainly at guard) doesn’t beget extreme amounts of confidence.

Beyond Spriggs, the Packers’ only other tackle depth comes from a few players splitting their time between guard and tackle:

  • Kyle Murphy was drafted as a tackle but seems to be transitioning to guard.
  • Seventh round draft pick Kofi Amichia played tackle in college but projects as a guard.
  • Undrafted free agent Adam Pankey played both guard and tackle in college.
  • Don Barclay has played both tackle and guard for the Packers, but last year’s disaster should wipe out any idea of him filling in for Bakhtiari for any extended amount of time.

What happens if Bakhtiari gets hurt?

In the event that Bakhtiari would be injured, the Packers’ list of options is quite short. Jason Spriggs would probably get the first crack at replacing the Pro Bowl left tackle, but beyond that, things get messy.

If Spriggs can’t perform, the Packers may be forced to try to flip Bryan Bulaga back to the left side. Bulaga played on the left in college and had a short lived tenure there in 2013 before his season ended with a torn ACL during the last family night scrimmage. Bulaga is a talented player, but it’s likely there would be a significant dropoff in performance due to a lack of recent experience at the position.

What’s more, shifting Bulaga to the left would leave another hole to be filled on the right side, leading us back to Jason Spriggs and his uninspiring reps there and at guard last season. If the Packers are at the point where they’re shifting Bulaga to the left, it’s hard to imagine they’d be eager to install Spriggs anywhere on the offensive line.

These situations are obviously hypothetical, but the bottom line is this: Bakhtiari is an enormously important part of the Packers’ offense, and they’re ill-prepared to lose him. 2017 already rests in large part on the broad shoulders of the offensive line, and if Bakhtiari can’t stay healthy, the list of players available to carry the load is short.