Packers: The closest training camp battle will be on the offensive line
Of the 90 players currently on the Green Bay Packers roster, 37 of them will be either moved to the practice squad, or cut entirely before the beginning of the regular season.
For most teams at most positions, this period of the NFL calendar is pretty standard without much debate. Established starters, free agent signings and players with a high draft pick investment will practically always make the 53-man roster, while the list of names left off is typically comprised of younger players, usually day three picks and undrafted free agents from the last five years.
Few franchises returned more players from their 2020 roster than the Packers did, thus reducing the amount of intriguing camp battles we’ll get to see/hear of this summer, as it’s expected that many of those players who saw solid playing time last year will be back again this season.
While positions such as cornerback and running back will have a few open battles for final spots, the area where the most questions still remain is along the offensive line.
Green Bay aren’t necessarily struggling for talent in the trenches. Despite numerous injuries resulting in players playing multiple positions last year, the Packers offensive line consistently performed as one of the best in football. In fact, Green Bay finished the season in first place in ESPN’s pass block win rate, one of the best indicators of strong offensive line play.
What the Packers have entering training camp is not a huge hole on the offensive line, but it’s also not exactly an embarrassment of riches either. They simply have a list of eight or nine solid linemen (outside of their four returning starters from last year), who are all good enough to secure a roster spot somewhere in the NFL.
However as we know, there isn’t room for everyone. Most teams carry around nine or 10 linemen in total.
How did the Packers get here?
GM Brian Gutekunst has not messed around when it comes to securing depth in the trenches. After hitting on Mississippi State’s Elgton Jenkins in the second round in the 2019 draft, Gutekunst went on to draft six total offensive linemen between the 2020 and 2021 drafts.
Almost all of whom have versatility to play multiple positions, so the flexibility of this line is pretty much endless.
Meet the players competing for a roster spot
Before I introduce the players currently competing for a roster spot, I’ll first name the four players who are virtually guaranteed to make the 53-man squad after final cut downs.
Those are: David Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins, Billy Turner and 2021 second-round pick Josh Myers. So now, who will be battling it out through June, July and August to impress the coaches and earn a place on the team?
Starting with the most likely player to make the squad, Patrick played the second most snaps of any Packer on the O-line last season and played quite well too. The only scenario where Patrick would not be back in Green Bay is if the coaching staff is so impressed and confident in these younger guys that they feel Patrick is easily replaceable and just taking up cap space.
Patrick is much more expensive than everyone else I’m about to name, so if everyone else is performing well, the Packers could choose move on from the 27 year old. However it’s very unlikely.
Braden has been in the news lately as someone who’s impressed the Packers coaching staff, in particular offensive line coach Adam Stenavich who recently said, “I’m really excited about Ben and what’s going to happen with him. I think he’s really going to compete for a starting job at guard or tackle.” That’s high praise coming from your position coach. This quote has catapulted Braden into an early lead for making the roster before training camp even begins.
Braden went undrafted in 2017, getting picked up by the Jets where he stayed for three seasons. He was in Packers camp last year, but didn’t make the roster, then bounced around a few more practice squads before ultimately returning to the Packers for this summer.
Jon Runyan Jr.
The 2020 sixth-round pick out of Michigan saw limited playing time in his rookie season, mostly filling in for injuries. Runyan played 160 snaps across eight different games and was relatively strong throughout. Out of the three late-round picks the Packers spent on the offensive line last year, Runyan bears the most optimism to develop into a long-term starter down the line.
Stepaniak was drafted in the same round as Runyan however he has yet to see the field due to a knee injury he sustained in the lead up to his final game of college football. The former Indiana Hoosier effectively redshirted his entire rookie season before he was reactivated from injured reserve last December. The 24 year old will be keen to make up for lost time this offseason.
Like Runyan and Stepaniak, Hanson was also drafted in the sixth round of the 2020 draft. Hanson also battled through injuries during the beginning of his NFL career and was notably cut from the final 53-man roster last September, signing for the practice squad. Hanson played center at Oregon where he snapped the ball to current Chargers QB Justin Herbert.
Newman was a fourth-round selection in April’s draft. Newman played almost 1,000 snaps in college for Ole Miss, mainly at right tackle. It’s very rare for a fourth-round rookie to not make the final roster, simply because it’s a bad look on the front office who selected the player. So you can almost lock Newman in for a spot here. He also has a case for the best hairstyle on the Packers roster, a key indicator for future success of course.
Cole Van Lanen
Van Lanen has a pretty cool story of achieving his childhood dream. The Green Bay native grew up just 10 minutes north of Lambeau Field, and played college ball for his home-state Wisconsin Badgers. Upon being drafted 214th overall to the Packers last month, Van Lanen said, “I’m excited to wear this G and make this town proud.” No doubt everyone will be pulling extra hard for the hometown kid to secure a place on the roster.
One thing that Yosh Nijman has going for him is that he’s one of very few pure offensive tackles on the Packers roster who has been in and around the team for any length of time. Most of the names listed here are primarily guards and centers. Those who are offensive tackles, (Braden, Newman, Van Lanen and Stepaniak), haven’t had a single training camp in the NFL yet.
With David Bakhtiari’s timetable for return still unknown, Nijman could find a spot on this roster out of necessity. He should at least be retained on the practice squad because an early injury to either Elgton Jenkins or Billy Turner with Bakhtiari still sidelined would leave the Packers extremely undermanned on the edges.
Johnson was signed to the Packers as an undrafted free agent of the 2020 draft. Johnson did not make the final roster, and was signed to the practice squad where he remained all season. Johnson, along with his practice squad counterparts, are all back again with a shot to make the roster this time around. Johnson was pretty good in college playing at both right guard and right tackle for the dominant North Dakota State of the FCS.
The other linemen currently on the 90-man roster with an outside shot are John Dietzen, Coy Cronk and Jacob Capra.