Final grades: Linsley, Bakhtiari again the best on offensive line

B

Bob McGinn

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By BOB McGINN

Third of a 10-part position-by-position series in which the 69 players on the Green Bay Packers’ 53-man roster, reserve/injured and reserve/did not report lists at the end of the season are graded. Playing-time percentages are for offense and defense only.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (12)

David Bakhtiari (96%): Turned in another solid season but it was hardly his best. Bakhtiari broke down more often in pass protection, most notably off the edge and on secondary moves. Early in his career he got beat inside too much.
. Now, for some reason, outside rushes tend to be more of a problem. He allowed 29 ½ pressures, which I’ve always defined as the combination of sacks, knockdowns and hurries. That’s his most since 2014 (33), and well above his totals last year (17 ½) and in 2016 (19). He was charged with six sacks, his highest total since his rookie season of 2013 (6 ½). He allowed 8 ½ “bad” runs, up from six a year ago. The staff to a degree featured Bakhtiari’s ability to hit on the move with 14 runs in which he pulled outside and the gain was 93 yards (6.6). He had four penalties, giving him just 11 from 2016-’18 compared to 28 from 2013-’15. Grade: B.

Byron Bell (49%): When the Packers elected not to re-sign 35-year-old Jahri Evans, who had 87.1% playing time at right guard in 2017, they signed Bell on May 30 (one year, $1.6 million, $500,000 guaranteed) as a security blanket. His 74 starts for the Panthers, Titans and Cowboys included 66 at tackle and eight at guard (one at RG). With Justin McCray not playing well and then suffering an injury in Game 3, Bell got the call at right guard and remained there until suffering a season-ending knee injury in Game 12. At 30, Bell is a massive plodder (6-5 ½, 339) who offers next to nothing at the linebacker level, either in the run game or on screens. Yet, for all the knocks he surely took from opposing scouts, his level of performance wasn’t bad. Although he didn’t play nearly as much as Evans his pressure total of 13 ½ compared favorably to Evans’ 28 ½. Not only were his 13 ½ pressures the fewest of the top eight offensive linemen but so was his sack total of one-half. His “bad” run count of 8 ½ also looked good compared to Evans’ 15 ½. Bell knows how to use his mass and 34 ½-inch arms to his advantage. He was the least effective pull-blocker on the No. 1 line (9-28) but he wasn’t penalized all season. Bell plays like he really loves the game. No team would enter a season with Bell as its starter but the Packers could do worse than to bring him back. Grade: C.

Bryan Bulaga (72.7%): Ever since they signed Bulaga to a five-year, $33.75 million deal in March 2015 the Packers have been praying he could somehow get to the end of it without suffering a career-ending injury and leaving them with a pile of dead money. Well, he made it, and now the Packers are off the hook other than his $5.8 million base salary in 2019. This season, knee and back injuries knocked him out of four games but he kept fighting back and made 14 starts. Bulaga isn’t what he once was due to the avalanche of injuries but the man still can play. His pressure total of 18 ½ ranked fourth fewest on the line. His “bad” run count of five was the fewest. His worst statistic was eight penalties, the most of his career since 2010 (10). At this point, the Packers are a much better team with Bulaga on the field even if it won’t be 100% of the time. Grade: B-minus.

Alex Light (2.4%): Light made the club as a rookie free agent from Richmond but wasn’t active until Game 13. In all, he played 26 snaps, all but one at right guard. Light made an impression because he looked respectable at left tackle in camp. He can’t run at all (5.55) but has enormous hands (11 ¼ inches) and an aggressive play style. Grade: Incomplete.

Corey Linsley (100%): This was the third time in Linsley’s five seasons that he played every snap (1,075). His efficiency can’t be denied. He didn’t have a single penalty or bad shotgun snap. He isn’t big, overly powerful or a top athlete. He is really smart and maximizes his ability. Much like Bakhtiari, the other mainstay of the unit, Linsley didn’t have his best season. His pressure total of 19 was the highest of his career. Included in that total were 4 ½ sacks, his high since allowing seven in ’15. Linsley also had more misses in the run game reflected by his team-high total of 12 “bad” runs. Still, that was a decrease from 15 in 2017. The Packers would be lost without Linsley. The three-year, $25.5 million ($8M guaranteed) extension that he was given in December 2017 was money well spent. Grade: B.

Cole Madison (0.0%): A fifth-round draft from Washington State, he participated in off-season work but didn’t report for training camp July 25 and hasn’t been heard from since. It was a poor year in the draft for guards but the Packers rolled the dice and made him the sixth guard taken. He played 47 games at right tackle for the Cougars but marginal arm length (32 ¼) probably mandated a move to guard in the NFL. Big, muscular bodies change fast without stringent workout programs. It might not be too late for a return but if he plans to play Madison would need to start heavy training now. Grade: Incomplete.

Justin McCray (44.7%): When Madison was a no-show the No. 1 berth at right guard went by default to McCray. He proved incapable of being a reliable starter in the first three games, lost his position and then was a healthy inactive for Games 7-8. When injuries struck teammates he played extensively in five more games down the stretch, including two starts at right guard. McCray is physical. He uses his mass pretty well in close quarters. He tries to finish. Faster-twitched defensive linemen give him fits when they get to his sides. He doesn’t move well laterally and his balance is suspect. His pressure total of 17 was a significant decrease from 28 a year ago when he played 56.7%. However, his “bad” run count rose from five to nine. The fact McCray can play all five positions in a pinch together with his top character give him a chance to play in the league for several more years. Grade: D-plus.

Adam Pankey (0.1%): In two seasons on scholarship Pankey has played one snap from scrimmage. An undrafted player from West Virginia, Pankey played all four positions in training camp. The old staff saw something in Pankey: maybe it was his large hands (10 5/8), solid arm length (34) or adequate intelligence (22 on the Wonderlic). His height (6-4 ½) says guard. The new staff might just move on, but any offensive lineman with experience these days is hard to dismiss out of hand. Grade: Incomplete.

Lucas Patrick (26%): He had to be content as the non-playing top reserve at the three interior positions for 12 weeks. Then Lane Taylor and Bell went down and Patrick had to play 91.8% in Games 13-16. The best thing that can be said about Patrick is he plays his butt off. He goes to the whistle and sometimes beyond, working to finish no matter how decorated his opponent might be. Last year, he played 21.7%. His numbers in 2018 were worse: 14 pressures compared to nine, five “bad” runs compared to one. Much like McCray, he’s a liability against quickness and can’t do much downfield. They say tough guys play, but even the toughest of guys need to have more ability than Patrick possesses. It’s possible center could be his best position, but with Linsley being such a rock the Packers don’t know for sure. Grade: D.

Nico Siragusa (0.0%): The Packers plucked Siragusa off Baltimore’s practice squad on Dec. 12 and he was inactive for three games. The Ravens’ fourth-round draft choice in 2017 spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve with a knee injury. Then he was let go on the final cut in his second training camp and spent 14 weeks on the practice squad. A massive man (6-4, 320, 5.34), he was a three-year starter at left guard for San Diego State. His vertical jump of 32 inches led the guards in the ’17 draft. Smart (Wonderlic of 28), big hands (10 5/8), OK arm length (33 ½). Before that draft some scouts wondered just how much he loved the game. Grade: Incomplete.

Jason Spriggs (27.1%): Before his third season Spriggs decided to add a bunch of weight in an effort to avoid getting tossed about so often. It did help him to an extent as a run blocker; his “bad” run total was just 3 ½ after seasons of seven in 2017 and 7 ½ in ’16. Spriggs obviously isn’t capable of displacing stout defensive linemen but he didn’t end up on the ground as often. Bulking up, however, had the opposite effect when it came to halting the up-field rush. Playing 281 snaps at right tackle and 10 more at left, he was constantly beat around the corner by speed, foot movement and hand placement. Spriggs was penalized seven times, seven more than last year and five more than in 2016. He lacked concentration (four false starts) and fundamentals (three holds). In all, Spriggs gave up 16 pressures compared to 17 in ’17 and 14 in ’16. Ted Thompson’s decision to give up fourth- and seventh-round picks in order to move up nine slots and select Spriggs in the middle of the second round in 2016 was a failure. The Packers have to move on from Spriggs and force themselves to find another backup tackle. Grade: F.

Lane Taylor (82%): Taylor’s career had been on a steady upward arc since 2015 when his vulnerabilities against both quick-footed and power pass rushers were exposed like never before this season. He couldn’t cope on a consistent basis with people on his edges or players that tried to walk him back down the middle. In his first two seasons as a starter, Taylor covered up his weaknesses with a hands-outside style of pass blocking and a big, barrel chest. He absorbed on impact. At 29, Taylor could no longer do it. His sack total of 8 ½ was the most yielded in Green Bay since Don Barclay was gouged for nine in 2015. Taylor had given up only three and two sacks in his first two years as a regular. He also was charged with a team-leading 30 ½ pressures compared to 21 ½ last year and 28 ½ in 2016. Josh Sitton, the left guard that Taylor replaced, never allowed more than 18 ½ pressures in his seven seasons as a starter. Taylor’s run blocking remained steady; his total of 9 ½ “bad” runs was comparable to the nine and 13 that he allowed in 2016-’17. Plus, the coaches didn’t pull him nearly as much as they did the year before. The ineffectiveness of the screen game was due in large part to the marginal athleticism and speed at guard from Taylor, Bell, McCray and Patrick. Grade: D-plus.



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