2020 Season in Review - Offensive Line
Another day, another position! In our fifth instalment of reviewing every player at every position, we turn our attentions to the o line. How did they fair in 2020?
Simply put, Corey Linsley is probably the best center in the NFL – although Jason Kelce and Rodney Hudson may have something to say about that. Linsley was named 1st Team All-Pro by AP, PFF and PWFA but somehow was snubbed in the Pro Bowl voting, but that says more about the process for that particular honour than it does about Linsley
Linsley played and started in 13 games this past season, missing 3 games in December when he was placed on Injured Reserve with a knee injury. In those 13 games, PFF graded him as their top center overall and also as the top center in run blocking. Also according to PFF, Linsley allowed just 4 QB pressures and 1 sack on 437 pass blocking snaps in 2020. He also didn’t give up a single penalty all season.
Linsley rates highly both in pass protection and as a run blocker, being the glue that holds the Packers offensive line together and is a team leader who was the Packers nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award this year.
Unfortunately for the Packers, Linsley is now an unrestricted free agent and with a tight salary cap situation it’s possible that he may not be back with the team in 2021.
Hanson was selected by the Packers in the 2020 draft with the 6th round pick (208th overall) that they acquired from the Titans in the Reggie Gilbert trade. Hanson had been a 2-time All-Pac12 selection whilst at Oregon and the Packers saw him as interesting addition to the interior offensive line group, albeit still a project.
Beaten out in a numbers game, Hanson was waived at the final cutdown to the 53 man roster on 5th September. He was signed to the Packers Practice Squad the following day. In October, Hanson was placed on the Injured Reserve-Practice Squad list, which is where he ended the season never having been activated or elevated to the active roster.
Hanson was signed to a new contract on 26th January 2021, so we should expect to see him competing for a roster spot again this year, especially if Corey Linsley moves on in free agency.
No Longer With the Team
Since 2016, Anthony Fabiano has been on the Practice Squad of a number of teams, with the occasional activation for short periods to an active roster. In 2020, the Packers signed him to their Practice Squad on 8th December (taking the spot of S Henry Black who had moved to the active roster). The Packers released Fabiano two weeks later without ever activating or elevating him to the full 53 man roster.
When the Packers selected Elgton Jenkins in the 2nd round of the 2019 draft, they were hoping to get a player who would become a long term starter in the NFL. What they couldn’t have dared hope for is that they would get a player who would become a Pro Bowl performer in his 2nd year and would be able to take his college positional versatility and project it to the pros. Jenkins is already way ahead of schedule and who knows what his best position in the NFL will be?
Jenkins started all 16 games in 2020, including making starts at 3 different positions – right tackle (1), left guard (12) and center (3) – in doing so, he became the first Packer player to start games at center, guard and tackle in the same season since Bob Skoronski in 1964. He also played snaps at all 5 offensive line positions – this is likely to be a first in Packers history for the same season (although records are not available to prove this). Jenkins missed just 2 offensive snaps all season.
Equally adept as a pass protector and a run blocker, Jenkins earned a Pro Bowl starting spot at left guard – he also finished 4th in the voting for the left guard spot on the AP All-Pro team and was named 2nd team All-Pro by Pro Football Journal as a “Flex-Multiple” on the offensive line.
What position Jenkins will end up playing in 2021 is anybody’s guess. He enters the year in the left guard spot but with the possibility that Corey Linsley leaves in free agency then he could wind up at center. And it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that he could play tackle, he has the pass blocking skills to do so – according to PFF he has given up just 1 sack in 1,304 pass blocking snaps in his NFL career. The injury situation with David Bakhtiari increases the chances that Jenkins could slot into a tackle spot. Whatever position Jenkins plays in 2021, we can count on him to do so at a high level.
Entering the 2021 season it was likely that Lucas Patrick was seen as the primary back-up at guard and center. Due to injuries in week 1, which saw Elgton Jenkins move out to right tackle, Patrick started the season at left guard and then moved to right guard for week 2 when Lane Taylor went down with a season ending injury. For the season, Patrick ended up playing the 2nd most snaps on the Packers offensive line, starting 11 games at right guard and 4 games at left guard – the only start he missed was in week 15.
As a first time starter, Patrick provided the Packers with a higher level of play than they could probably have expected – he was particularly adept in the running game opening holes up the middle. He struggled at times in pass protection but all in all he had a solid 2020.
The Packers will be looking for further progress in the coming season, when we should expect Patrick to either continue in a starting role at guard or perhaps could be the heir apparent to Corey Linsley at center.
Having missed all but 2 games in 2019 due to a bicep injury, Lane Taylor worked hard to get himself ready for the 2020 season and even agreed to a reduction in his base salary in order to help ensure that he made the team. Taylor did enough to earn the starting job at right guard in week 1, but very unfortunately was injured again – a knee injury that saw him being placed on Injured Reserve on 22nd September. He remained there for the remainder of the season. In 2020, Taylor played 1 game (1 start) and was inactive for 1 game.
Taylor is now an unrestricted free agent and it’s therefore possible that he may not be back with the team in 2021.
Jon Runyan, the son of a 14-year NFL veteran of the same name, was a 2-time All-Big 10 performer at tackle at the University of Michigan, so when he was available in the 6th round (192nd overall) of the 2020 draft, the Packers jumped at the opportunity to add depth to their offensive line group. It was always projected that Runyan (who signed a 4yr/$3.46m rookie contract) was likely to move inside to guard in the pros and so it proved.
As the Packers had to shuffle the offensive line due to injuries on a number of occasions, Runyan saw more action than he probably expected as a rookie – stepping in to see snaps at left guard in 7 games. All in all, he played in all 16 games, and although he didn’t start in any, he did see substantial action in both week 11 (Indianapolis) and week 12 (Chicago).
Runyan appears to be adept in both pass protection and as a run blocker and will likely be the Packers primary back-up at guard in 2021.
In his 3 years as a pro, University of Michigan alum Ben Braden has been a fringe roster player – he spent some time with the New York Jets in each of 2018 and 2019 and was also with Packers on the Practice Squad in 2019. During 2020 training camp, he spent about 3 weeks with the Patriots before being waived at the cutdown to the final 53 man roster.
The Packers picked up Braden for a second time on 21st October – signing him to the Practice Squad. From that point onwards, Braden alternated between the Practice Squad (being elevated 3 times) and the active roster for the remainder of the season. He ended the season on the active roster replacing the injured David Bakhtiari just before the finale against the Bears. For the season, Braden played in 4 games (0 starts) and had 1 further game in which he was active but did not play.
Braden is strong and has great size and likely will be back in 2021 to compete for a roster spot firstly with the Packers.
The Packers selected Stepaniak in the 6th round (209th overall) of the 2020 draft, despite him carrying an ongoing injury (ACL tear) from college. He signed a 4yr/$3.44m rookie contract in June before being placed on the Non-Football Injury List on 5th September (final cutdown day to the 53 man roster). Stepaniak was activated from the Non-Football Injury list on 9th December but was later placed on Injured Reserve on 12th January (when Jared Veldheer was re-signed).
Due to his injury, Stepaniak didn’t play in games for the Packers in 2020 (although he was placed on the gameday inactive list 4 times). Hopefully a fully physically fit Stepaniak will be in camp in 2021 and he should have a strong shot at gaining a roster spot.
Johnson was signed by the Packers immediately after the 2020 draft as an undrafted free agent on 29th April. He stuck with team until the final roster cutdown day (5th September) when he was waived. The Packers re-signed him to the Practice Squad the following day. Johnson was elevated from the Practice Squad to the active roster just one time - for the game against Carolina (19th December), although he dd not see any playing time. He remained on the Practice Squad for the remainder of the season.
Johnson was signed to a new contract on 25th January 2021, so we should expect to see him competing for a roster spot again this year.
No Longer With the Team
Madison was the Packers fifth round draft pick in 2018 but sat out all of the year due to a personal situation. He returned to the team in 2019 to compete for roster spot which he duly won. But in what was his “real” rookie year, Madison didn’t see any playing time action – he was placed on the gameday inactive list each week until going on Injured Reserve on 23rd November due to a torn ACL.
Heading into 2020, Madison was probably considered an outside shot at making the roster and so it proved when the Packers waived him at the end of July.
David Bakhtiari is one of the premier left tackles in the game – indeed having been named 1st Team All-Pro by AP (for the second time), it’s not difficult to make the argument that he is the very best at his position in the league. The Packers recognised his worth by signing him to a 4yr/$92m contract extension in November – securing his services through the 2024 season.
Packers - AP 1st Team All Pros on O Line since 1940
7 - Forrest Gregg
6 - Jim Ringo
5 - Jerry Kramer
2 - Gale Gillingham, David Bakhtiari
1 - Charley Brock
Unfortunately for both the Packers and Bakhtiari, he suffered a torn ACL in practice prior to the Regular Season finale – an injury which immediately ended his season and saw him placed on Injured Reserve. It is an injury that is likely to have a rehab and recovery period of anything from 9 - 12 months. Prior to this devastating blow, Bakhtiari started in 12 games (and was inactive for 3 others) and was playing at a very high level – as well as the aforementioned AP 1st Team All-Pro selection, he was also named 1st Team All-Pro by PFWA, Pro Bowl starter and was PFF’s highest graded OT in pass blocking across the whole of the NFL – allowing just 9 QB pressures and 1 sack on 446 pass blocking snaps.
The Packers restructured Bakhtiari’s contract by converting the roster bonus he was due in March to a signing bonus – this makes no difference to the player (he gets the same money at the same time his contract currently calls for), but for the Packers it saved $8.3m against their 2021 salary cap number.
With regard to Bakhtiari’s return from injury, only time well tell. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that he’ll back be back early in the 2021 Regular Season, although it would seem more reasonable that his return would be a little later than that. And whilst there is nothing to indicate this, it is also possible that he may not return in 2021 at all and that the next time we see him on the field is 2022. Let’s hope that this is not the case.
In 2019, as a high priced free agent, Turner was little more than passable at right guard, and it seemed that the Packers had likely overpaid (4yr/$28m) for his services. However, lots of doubts were put to rest by the good season that he had in 2020. With all of the upheaval, due to injury, on the offensive line this past season, the Packers will be thankful that they saw the potential in Turner that many did not.
In 2020, Turner played and started 14 games – he was inactive for 1 game (week 1) and was active but did not play in 1 other (week 2). His skill and versatility being able to play multiple positions was crucial to the Packers offensive success – his 14 starts coming at 3 different positions… 6 at right tackle, 4 at right guard and 4 at left tackle. Turner proved to be good in both pass protection and as a run blocker.
In order to create space against the 2021 salary cap, the Packers may look to convert his roster bonus (due in March) and perhaps some of his base salary to a signing bonus which could free up as much as $2.3m. Alternatively, although it is extremely unlikely, the Packers could move on from Tuner before March (although I don’t know why they would) and save $3.91m against the 2021 salary cap.
Ideally the Packers would like to plug Turner in at right tackle and have him play there and progress for the next few years. But given the injury situation with David Bakhtiari it’s quite possible that he may start 2021 at left tackle.
Yosh Nijman is a huge man (6-7, 314) with seemingly lots of potential. After being activated late in 2019, the Packers kept him around in 2020 and liked Nijman enough for him to make the final roster cutdown, as the no.4 tackle on the depth chart. Nijman played in 16 games in 2020, with 0 starts, and nearly all of his action was seen on special teams.
Nijman is now an exclusive rights free agent, but we should expect the Packers to re-sign him and bring him back for the 2021 season.
Veldheer originally joined the Packers in late 2019 (for 2 regular season games and both play-off games) but left as an unrestricted free agent after the season. The Packers picked him up again this past season prior to the Divisional Play-off game against the Rams. Veldheer had been on the Colts Practice Squad and the Packers signed him from there after Indianapolis was knocked out of the play-offs.
Unfortunately for both Veldheer and the Packers, he was placed on the COVID-19 reserve list a day after arriving in Green Bay and never saw any action. He is now an unrestricted free agent and therefore may not be back with the team in 2021 – although the Packers may yet need help at tackle in 2021, depending upon what happens with David Bakhtiari’s injury.
No Longer With the Team
Looking for help at right tackle after losing Bryan Bulaga to free agency, the Packers signed Ricky Wagner to a 2yr/$11m contract on 17th March. Wagner has been a good player for much of his career but struggled a little in the last couple of seasons and therefore the Packers signing him was a little bit of a surprise and Wagner came to the team with some question marks.
Playing in all 16 games, with 9 starts at right tackle, Wagner was probably better than many analysts expected in 2020 without ever being dominating. He helped solidify a line that underwent many positional changes, almost on a weekly basis, due to injury.
Having said all of that, Wagner ultimately became a salary cap casualty before the new league year after the Packers announced his release on 19th Feb, saving $4.25m against the 2021 salary cap as a result.
Light played in 13 games for the Packers in 2019 as primary back-up tackle but struggled when called on to contribute. The Packers thought enough of him though to bring him back in 2020. However, Light didn’t make the final roster this past year as he was waived at the final cutdown on 5th September and although he was signed to Practice Squad the following day, Light’s time with Green Bay ended just 4 days later when he was released.
Light was later signed and released from the Cardinals Practice Squad before being picked up by the Cowboys, with whom he remained for just 3 weeks before being released.
Ryan Pope spent time on the 49ers Practice Squad in 2019 and was later signed by the Jaguars to compete for a roster spot in 2020. However, his slim hopes of making Jacksonville’s team weren’t helped when he was placed on the COVID-19 reserve list in July. After later being released by the Jaguars, Pope was signed by the Packers to the Practice Squad on 16th September and there he remained until 15th December when RB Dexter Williams was activated from the injured list. Pope was released without having been elevated or activated to the 53 man active roster.
Pope has great size (6-7, 315) and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him back with an NFL team in the coming off-season, attempting to earn that elusive roster spot.
An undrafted free agent, Cody Conway spent the last couple of months of the 2019 season on the Packers Practice Squad and he came back in 2020 to compete for a roster spot. However he was waived at the final cutdown to the 53 man roster on 5th September. Conway was later signed by the San Francisco 49ers to their Practice Squad.
Leglue was on the Packers active roster for the last couple of games in 2019 and returned in 2020 with full hopes of securing a place on the final roster – he was likely in competition with Yosh Nijman for the no.4 offensive tackle spot. It wasn’t to be however and Leglue was waived at the final cutdown to the 53 man roster on 5th September.
Leglue has been signed to a reserve/futures contract for 2021 by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Travis Buffy was particularly unlucky not to have been selected in the 2020 NFL draft and the Packers were quick to sign him as a free agent on the 29th April. Buffy would have been expected to compete for a place on the Practice Squad at least, but that wasn’t the case and he was released on 19th August.
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