"Pre-draft picture" is a position-by-position look at the Packers' roster heading into the 2022 NFL Draft. The series continues with the offensive line.
GREEN BAY – The Packers have lost two regulars from their 2021 offensive line yet might only have one starting spot open as 2022 gets rolling.
That speaks to the injuries the unit has endured and the expected return of at least one front-line player. It's also a reflection of the depth that has been built within the group due to all the injuries and lineup shuffling over the past couple of years.
There's a ton of time before Week 1, but with starting right tackle Billy Turner released in a salary-cap move (he signed with Denver) and interior mainstay Lucas Patrick going to Chicago in free agency, the best bet right now for how the Packers might line up come September would include the following:
Five-time All-Pro David Bakhtiari at left tackle. Bakhtiari (6-4, 310) is expected back after what turned into a lost 2021 following a late-season ACL injury in 2020. Multiple starts and stops in his return to the practice field last season culminated in one-half of football in the regular-season finale at Detroit, but the knee still wasn't in strong enough shape for him to take the field in the playoffs.
Jon Runyan at left guard. The 2020 sixth-round draft pick out of Michigan grabbed the starting job in Week 2 and not only held it the rest of the season, the 6-4, 307-pounder didn't commit a single penalty. Only four offensive linemen in the league who played at least 800 snaps went penalty-free in 2021.
Josh Myers at center. Last year's second-round pick out of Ohio State was the starter from the day he first put on a Packers uniform, but a sequence of injuries – first an infected finger, then a knee problem – limited him to just six starts in the regular season, plus the playoff game. The 6-5, 310-pound Myers showed enough promise the Packers envision him as their long-term starter at the position, believing his arrow points straight up with good health.
Royce Newman at right guard. Drafted in the fourth round last year out of Ole Miss, Newman (6-5, 310) won a starting job with strong rookie training camp and preseason. He started the first 16 games of the year before the late-season return of players from injury relegated him to sixth-man status.
That leaves right tackle, and one plausible scenario there is the Packers could invest one of their four picks in the first two rounds of the draft on a highly touted prospect who'd compete with Yosh Nijman for the job.
As much as it wasn't foreseen that Newman would win a starting gig as a rookie, Nijman was the biggest surprise on the offensive line last season. With Bakhtiari out and Elgton Jenkins temporarily sidelined, Nijman (6-7, 314) was asked to step in at left tackle in Week 3 at San Francisco, and he responded impressively.
When Jenkins was then lost for the season to an ACL injury in November, Nijman filled in again, starting a total of eight games as Aaron Rodgers' blind-side protector by season's end. After spending all of 2019 on the practice squad as an undrafted rookie from Virginia Tech and all of 2020 on the bench, Nijman proved he belonged, and it's easy to see him flipping sides and making a run at right tackle in 2022.
Take a look at the top prospects at offensive line heading into the 2022 NFL Draft.
"Against some pretty good competition, like 97 (Joey Bosa) from San Francisco and 90 (T.J. Watt) from Pittsburgh, he held his own," new offensive line coach Luke Butkus said last week. "So I'm excited, and I think he's got a huge upside. I think if Yosh works at it, Yosh can do whatever he wants."
Even if it might be tough for a rookie to beat out Nijman, the Packers could still invest a premium pick on an offensive tackle for much-needed depth.
Veteran reserve Dennis Kelly hasn't been re-signed, and the only other tackle option on the current roster is 2021 sixth-round pick Cole Van Lanen from Wisconsin. Van Lanen (6-4, 308) worked at both guard and tackle during a rookie season spent on the practice squad, with a few late-season game-day elevations to the active roster.
The Packers likely will be looking for added depth at guard in this draft, too, with two centers – Jake Hanson and Michal Menet – serving as the only other interior reserves currently.
Hanson (6-4, 296), drafted in the sixth round in 2020 from Oregon, began his rookie season on the practice squad and was placed on injured reserve in mid-October. He spent last season on the active roster, appearing in five games on special teams.
Menet (6-4, 301) was signed just after the season ended in January after a rookie season that included stints on Arizona's practice squad. The Cardinals drafted him in the seventh round last year out of Penn State.
Last but far from least, the other large piece to the Packers' 2022 offensive line is Jenkins, the Pro Bowl guard who has played everywhere across the front in his first three seasons. The 2019 second-round pick from Mississippi State is expected back from ACL surgery at some point this year, but the timeline is unknown. His injury occurred in Week 11 at Minnesota (Nov. 21).
When healthy and ready to go, Jenkins will play. That's a given. But where? Guard is probably his best position, but he's good enough to plug in anyplace. So with everyone except Bakhtiari still young and developing, it's possible Jenkins' spot upon his return will be wherever he can provide the biggest upgrade, based on how the others are performing. Injuries at the time, which have hit this unit hard the last two seasons, could always factor into the decision as well.
"We're going to find the best five," Butkus said. "It's April. We have a lot of time, we have a lot of good players that sat in this room this past year, and we'll probably add a few more. Excited for the challenge, and I know these guys are, too. Everybody in this room is versatile."