bakhtiari photo 4-22

Packers offensive tackle David Bakhtiari plays against the Bears on Nov. 29 at Lambeau Field. 

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GREEN BAY — When the Green Bay Packers’ social media team posted on Twitter a wallpaper for fans to use for the lock screens of their mobile devices last week, one of the team’s biggest stars was excluded.

And he noticed.

For while the team’s graphic artists created a lovely collage of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, running back Aaron Jones, edge rusher Za’Darius Smith, safety Adrian Amos and wide receiver Davante Adams for fans to download to their pockets, conspicuously absent from the montage was left tackle David Bakhtiari — he of the five All-Pro selections and three Pro Bowl nods.

“I just tore my ACL,” Bakhtiari playfully reminded the club. “I didn’t die.”

Yes, Bakhtiari is alive and well — sense of humor intact — and rehabbing from the torn ACL he suffered in his knee during a New Year’s Eve afternoon practice the week of the 2020 regular-season finale.

But his uncertain status for opening day, the free agent departures of first-team All-Pro center Corey Linsley for the Los Angeles Chargers and longtime starting guard Lane Taylor for the Houston Texans, and the question of which position is Pro Bowl left guard Elgton Jenkins’ best position means Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst goes into the 2021 NFL draft next week with a virtual imperative to add to his offensive line — possibly with some early selections among the 10 picks he’s slated to make.

The Packers’ versatility across the line came in handy last season, when Jenkins and right tackle Billy Turner were almost constantly on the move. Jenkins played four of the five spots (left guard, center, left tackle, right tackle) while Turner played three (right tackle, left tackle, right guard). Guard Lucas Patrick also played three positions, starting 11 games at right guard and four at left guard but also filling in at center.

“The versatility of our offensive line certainly served us well in 2020, and I do think that if David’s not able to make it back — which I would not bet against — but if he’s not able to make it back for the beginning (of the season), we have some guys that with obviously a bunch of experience out there,” Gutekunst said earlier this offseason. “Obviously, Billy’s played out there, Elgton can play out there … so I think we’ll have some options there.”

While the threesome of Jenkins, Turner and Patrick gives the Packers flexibility in how to move forward without Linsley and with Bakhtiari in peril of not being medically cleared for the season-opening weekend of Sept. 12, it also highlights that the unit is one more injury away from disaster.

Asked last month if Bakhtiari appeared on track to be ready for the season, Gutekunst replied: “He looks great for where he’s at. You guys know him well. He’s going to work his tail off, and he’s a unique human being in the way he’s able to overcome challenges. He’s doing really well. It’s pretty early in the process, but at the same time, all signs are good right now.”

Having moved on from ex-University of Wisconsin tackle Rick Wagner, who started 11 games at right tackle (including playoffs) and played 59% of the team’s regular-season offensive snaps, the Packers only have three true tackles on the roster — Bakhtiari, Turner and developmental player Yosh Nijman. They also have only one player they list as a true center — Jake Hanson, who failed to make the 53-man roster coming out of training camp and ended his season on the practice-squad injured reserve list.

Hanson, who started 49 career games at center at Oregon, was one of three linemen Gutekunst drafted in the sixth round last year, along with Michigan’s Jon Runyan and Indiana’s Simon Stepaniak.

Runyan was the only one to see action on the offensive line, playing in eight regular-season games last year, including playing 50 snaps each in a Nov. 22 loss at Indianapolis and in a Nov. 29 win over Chicago. (Those two games accounted for 100 of his 160 offensive snaps on the season.) Stepaniak, coming off a torn ACL at the end of his college career, spent his rookie season as a de facto medical redshirt.

“I think one of the best things about Jon was it just wasn’t too big for him. I think that’s something you’re always looking for whenever you put a rookie in,” offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. “We were lucky. Being able to get him a little experience, that’s just so valuable for him, especially without the preseason last year. It’s something we’ve just got to keep developing and get the best five out there that we have.”

Depth chart

69 | David Bakhtiari LT — 6-4, 310, Colorado

74 | Elgton Jenkins LG — 6-5, 311, Mississippi State

62 | Lucas Patrick C/G — 6-3, 313, Duke

76 | Jon Runyan RG — 6-4, 307, Michigan

77 | Billy Turner RT/G — 6-5, 310, North Dakota State

73 | Yosh Nijman T — 6-7, 314, Virginia Tech

72 | Simon Stepaniak G — 6-4, 316, Indiana

67 | Jake Hanson C — 6-4, 296, Oregon

68 | Zack Johnson G — 6-6, 301, North Dakota State

64 | Ben Braden G — 6-6, 329, Michigan

Best in class

Penei Sewell, Oregon

penei sewell mug 4-22

Sewell

There was no better offensive lineman in college football in 2019 than the 6-foot-4, 331-pound Sewell, who was a unanimous All-American, the Pac-12 Conference’s co-offensive player of the year and the first sophomore to win the Outland Trophy, which is given to college football’s top lineman. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, though, he opted out of the 2020 season with the Ducks, focusing on preparing for the NFL draft.

That decision certainly hasn’t hurt his standing with scouts. He’s the consensus top offensive lineman in this year’s draft and has all the tools to be a perennial Pro Bowl left tackle.

“This whole time I’ve just been working on that, being a sponge,” Sewell said when asked how he spent his opt-out year. “Knowing that I opted out and sitting out through this time, the next time that I have an opportunity to step in between those lines, I’m going to make the most of it. And then I’m coming with everything that I have. I’m not coming up short.

“Nobody can do what I do in this draft in the offensive tackle rooms. I bring something totally different to the table. People will say whatever they want to say, (but) all I have to say is, ‘Put on the tape and watch me work.’”

Best of the rest

Rashawn Slater, Northwestern; Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC; Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech; Landon Dickerson, Alabama; Teven Jenkins, Oklahoma State; Alex Leatherwood, Alabama; Samuel Cosmi, Texas; Creed Humphrey, Oklahoma; Liam Eichenberg, Notre Dame.

Pick to click

Quinn Meinerz, UW-Whitewater

Unrecruited out of Hartford High School, the 6-2, 320-pound Meinerz was a two-year starter at left guard for the Warhawks before the 2020 season Division III season was canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic. Viewed as a borderline NFL prospect a year ago, he decided to turn pro rather than coming back for another college season and, as a late addition to the Senior Bowl roster, turned heads in Mobile, Alabama — and not just for his prodigious belly sticking out of the bottom of his jersey during practices.

But he’s more than just a pre-draft curiosity. Meinerz is likely to go on Day 2 of the draft.

“I was just always under the impression that if you’re good enough, they’ll find you,” Meinerz told BBC sports editor Rob Staton during a recent interview. “And I guess nobody found me coming out of high school. But it seems like everybody’s finding out who I am now.

“Coming out of high school, I was under-recruited, didn’t have very many options where to go to school. So I have tons of chips on my shoulder, and I enjoy proving people wrong.”

History lesson

Other than the Hanson-Runyan-Stepaniak trio, Gutekunst has drafted only two other linemen in his first three drafts as GM: Jenkins, in the second round in 2019, and Cole Madison, a 2018 fifth-round pick from Washington State who missed his rookie season to concentrate on his mental health and suffered a torn ACL while on the practice squad in 2019. The Packers cut Madison shortly before training camp last year, and he is currently out of football, having never played a down in Green Bay.

Those limited line investments stand in stark contrast to Gutekunst’s two scouting mentors, Pro Football Hall of Fame GM Ron Wolf and Gutekunst’s predecessor, Ted Thompson.

In his 13 drafts, Thompson added at least two offensive linemen eight times. And only once, in 2015, did he complete a draft without having taken a single lineman. Of his first-round picks as GM, Thompson used most of them on defense (9 of 12) but did pick offensive linemen in 2010 (Bryan Bulaga) and 2011 (Derek Sherrod). He also invested two second-rounders and one third-rounder on the line but had most of his success with his fourth- and fifth-round picks.

Meanwhile, in his nine drafts with full authority in the draft room. Wolf used first-round picks on the offensive line three times, in 1994 (Notre Dame guard Aaron Taylor), 1996 (USC tackle John Michels) and 1997 (Iowa tackle Ross Verba). In those nine drafts (plus the 1998 supplemental draft, when he used a second-round pick on Wahle), Wolf picked at least one lineman in every draft and picked two linemen or more in five drafts.


Photos: Packers’ 2020 season in pictures

Photos: Packers' 2020 season in pictures

Check out photo galleries from every game of 2020 through the end of the regular season and the playoffs.



Photos: Packers' 2020 season in pictures

Check out photo galleries from every game of 2020 through the end of the regular season and the playoffs.

This article originally ran on madison.com.

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