1) GREEN BAY PACKERS: When the starting five was intact, the Packers offensive line was among the best in pass protection, which was ranked fifth overall by Pro Football Focus for 2015.
The line’s biggest strength lies in its interior formed by guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang. As a ninth-year veteran, Sitton combines superb balance with superior quickness and lateral movement to get to the second and third levels. Lang, conversely, is a pure mauler in the running game, but has also made strides in his one-on-one pass blocking. He plays with a fierce intensity that sets the tone for the rest of the group.
Corey Linsley was a pleasant surprise in his 2014 rookie year with his explosiveness off the line and technically-sound pass blocking. Injuries plagued the former Ohio State Buckeye in Year 2, as he occasionally struggled to hold up versus the bull rush.
But it was the bookend positions that suffered most due to a mix of injuries and inconsistent play. Bryan Bulaga showed some regression, as evidenced by the fact that he allowed six sacks and 27 hurries in his 12 starts. He is still a quality technician and generally takes great angles in pass protection, but his penchant for injuries doesn’t look to get any better.
David Bakhtiari’s star is on the rise at left tackle. The 24-year-old has turned into an above-average pass blocker who’s light on his feet and possesses fluid lateral movement. His run blocking is a work in progress and he’ll also need to focus on curbing his penalties.
Backup tackles Don Barclay and Josh Walker were abysmal when they were called into action. Both would be better suited to line up at one of the guard positions. Barclay, in particular, looked totally incapable of playing with any leverage and was no match for speed rushers who beat him to the outside.
Among the other reserves, Lane Taylor looked competent when filling in for Lang in one contest and starting at left guard when Sitton served as blindside protector. J.C. Tretter proved that he’s by far the most versatile backup lineman when he played a key role in place of Bakhtiari in the postseason and was key in neutralizing Washington’s pass rush in Green Bay’s Wildcard win.
Ted Thompson was well aware of his depth issues at tackle and uncharacteristically traded up for the services of Indiana’s Jason Spriggs, who will ideally spend his rookie year learning and getting stronger to assume a starting role in his second season. Kyle Murphy was another 2016 draft pick. He played with great awareness at Stanford in anticipating stunts and blitzes along with showing great run-blocking technique by getting low despite being six-foot-seven.
This unit looks to be better equipped to afford Rodgers a cleaner pocket to throw from provided they avoid serious injuries. Added depth at tackle will force guys like Barclay and Walker to pick up their games or they will be plying their trade elsewhere.
At full strength, this group offers the kind of experience, chemistry and skill set that’s unmatched in the NFC North. However, Green Bay’s offensive line ranked 24th in penalties last season and that remains an area of concern.