GREEN BAY – Back in 2013, Clay Matthews knew David Bakhtiari as Eric’s little brother.
At that time, Bakhtiari was looking to follow in the footsteps of his brother and former NFL linebacker, who played with six teams over five years and trained with Matthews at Proactive Sports Performance in Westlake Village, Calif., during the offseason.
Projected as a mid-round draft pick, David turned out to be the 19th offensive lineman selected when former Packers general manager Ted Thompson plucked him off the board with the first of Green Bay’s three fourth-round picks (109th overall).
Leading up to the draft, pundits wondered whether Bakhtiari might have to make a move to guard to excel at the next level. Instead, Thompson had just discovered the left tackle into which organizations invest heavy draft capital in order to cover the blind side of the franchise quarterback.
Five years later, Bakhtiari has positioned himself comfortably in the conversation as one of the top five draft choices Thompson made during his 13 years as GM, standing atop that list alongside Matthews, Aaron Rodgers and Nick Collins.
Looking back, Matthews couldn’t have predicted Bakhtiari becoming a two-time All-Pro and Pro Bowl left tackle, but it’s also not that surprising, either.
“He’s turned out to be a great player,” Matthews said. “I can’t say that I saw this happening, especially with a mid-rounder, but he’s just continued to get better year in and year out. He’s at the point where he’s kind of hit his stride, and it’s just about maintaining that and being a figure here for many more years.”
There are few universal truths in today’s NFL, with offenses continuing to evolve and defenses blurring the lines between base and sub-packages. Despite a shifting landscape, however, quarterback and left tackle have remained two of the most important facets to building a championship team for the past 30-plus years.
That point is reflected in exactly half of the starting left tackles in Week 1 of this season being first-round picks, while seven others were taken inside the top 75 selections of their respective draft classes. Of the nine left tackles taken in the fourth round or later, only Bakhtiari and Jason Peters have All-Pro attached to their resumes.
Of that original pool of 32 players, Bakhtiari is one of 18 to start all 13 games for his team this season. Like center Corey Linsley – who has played every offensive snap for Green Bay this season – Bakhtiari has weathered his share of nicks and bruises to do it.
Rodgers has appreciated the availability of his left tackle, particularly after a knee injury he sustained in the opener against Chicago limited his mobility through the first half of the season.
“He's an All-Pro. I think he has Hall of Fame potential. He’s an incredible player,” the two-time MVP QB said of Bakhtiari. “He’s been a rock for us. When he’s over there, you feel really comfortable with him locking down pass rushers throughout the game. He’s played through some injuries, (but) he’s had a fantastic season again and obviously having him out there has been great.”
In a season riddled with adversity, the Packers faced one of their stiffest challenges last week against Atlanta, with right tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee), right guard Byron Bell (knee) and left guard Lane Taylor (foot) all sitting out against the Falcons due to injury.
Those absences required former undrafted free agent Lucas Patrick to make only his third career start in place of Taylor. Despite the moving parts, the Packers’ offensive line helped pave the way to a 138-yard day on the ground (5.5 yards per carry) and Rodgers throwing for two touchdowns in a 34-20 triumph.
Having filled in admirably in Taylor’s stead, Patrick told Bakhtiari on the field it’s an “honor to play next to him.” While Bakhtiari has been selected to one Pro Bowl in his first five NFL seasons, there’s no question in Patrick’s mind he’s deserving this year.
“Nobody else will say it, but I’ll say it – he’s had some snubs with postseason honors,” Patrick said. “The level he plays at and the level that he requires his guard to play at is at a high level. I appreciate him not holding back and not expecting anything less than what he’d expect of Lane. I think that brings my game up.”
Run-game coordinator/offensive line coach James Campen has coached Bakhtiari since the day he came into the building as a baby-faced, 21-year-old. From the beginning, he’s been a “sponge” soaking in information and constantly seeking ways to improve his game.
In addition to another solid campaign protecting Rodgers’ blindside, 2018 also has allowed Bakhtiari to better display his full skill set in the run game. With the offense looking to get second-year running back Aaron Jones in space, Bakhtiari has become a legitimate weapon as a run blocker in the open field on pitch plays.
With fan balloting ending Thursday for the Pro Bowl and players set to submit their nominees in the coming days, the Packers will find out early next week which players on the roster were deemed worthy of Pro Bowl accolades.
Regardless of whether or not Bakhtiari’s name is included on that list, the Packers don’t feel any differently about their franchise left tackle. To a man, the team recognizes and appreciates what it has in David Bakhtiari.
“If you watch him on film, watch the way he works and the time he puts in, everybody around here knows what kind of player he is,” Linsley said. “Everybody knows what kind of man he is and what kind of leader he is. You’re never going to find him being lazy or relaxed.
“Overall, he’s the exact type of player you want to look up to.”