Offensive line always a worthwhile pursuit in draft

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This is the fourth in a series of stories that’s examining the Packers’ roster, position by position, leading up to the 2019 NFL Draft. The series continues with the offensive line.

GREEN BAY – Ideally, the Packers don’t need an immediate starter on the offensive line for 2019.

But by no means does that mean the unit is not a major priority for Green Bay in the upcoming draft. It most certainly will be.

The signing of Billy Turner very early in free agency could fill the void at right guard, a spot manned over the last two years by four different players (Jahri Evans, Justin McCray, Lucas Patrick and Byron Bell).

Evans and Bell are gone, and while McCray and Patrick have filled in solidly when needed, the signing of Turner as free agency opened was no small investment. The Packers haven’t publicly committed to Turner as the new starting right guard, but 20 of his 25 career starts have come at guard, and his contract would indicate he’ll be given every opportunity to win the open job.

Assuming that’s the case, the Packers would have their most experienced starting five in quite some time, with each starter – David Bakhtiari at left tackle, Lane Taylor at left guard, Corey Linsley at center, Turner at right guard and Bryan Bulaga at right tackle – entering at least his sixth year in the NFL.

That’s a nice spot to be in, but potential injuries aside, the picture could change considerably a year from now. So developing depth for the present and building for the future are, as usual, worthwhile pursuits in this draft.

Bulaga, entering his 10th season, is in the final year of his contract, while Bakhtiari and Taylor, both seventh-year pros, will be in the final year of their current deals in 2020. No one’s necessarily leaving, but Bulaga is the eldest of the bunch and the Packers at a minimum have to cover themselves for his potential departure sooner than later, with right tackle such a premium position.

The Packers spent a second-round pick on Jason Spriggs back in 2016, but he’s not automatically next in the tackle pipeline at this point. Turner could be an option depending on how everything plays out, and young prospects Adam Pankey and Alex Light also have worked at both guard and tackle during their time in Green Bay.

Guard has a deeper list of reinforcements with McCray and Patrick both possessing starting experience, and last year’s fifth-round draft pick, Cole Madison, returning to the team after a year away for personal reasons. Anthony Coyle and Nico Siragusa both arrived midseason in 2018 as young guard prospects.

At center, there’s no obvious backup to Linsley, so that’s a spot to keep an eye on as well.

With four picks in the top 75 of this draft and 10 selections overall going in, the odds appear strong the Packers use a high pick as well as multiple picks up front on offense. While Green Bay in the past did well finding Bakhtiari in the fourth round, Linsley in the fifth, and Taylor as an undrafted player, counting on Day 3 gems possibly to start a year from now would be a major risk given where things stand.

Green Bay has chosen only four offensive linemen over the last four drafts, and of that quartet of picks, only Spriggs and Madison remain. Analysts say the crop at offensive tackle isn’t overflowing throughout the draft, but the prospects in the top 100 form a strong, promising class.

It would seem to be a group the Packers won’t let pass them by.

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