Green Bay Packers beat writer Paul Imig will be analyzing the 25 most important players to the Packers’ success in the 2014 season. Check back each weekday to see the latest player on the list. You can find the entire list here.
NOTE: This is not a list of the team’s 25 best players, but rather it’s a list of which players mean the most to how Green Bay will fare this year. Criteria such as depth at that player’s position, general expectations and overall importance of that player having a good season are all highly considered.
NO. 11 — DAVID BAKHTIARI, LEFT TACKLE
AGE / EXPERIENCE
22 / Second NFL season
WHY HE’S NO. 11
When the 2013 NFL season was over, David Bakhtiari finally reflected upon what had happened to his life over the course of less than one year. He went from being on a one-win University of Colorado football team to being the starting left tackle for the Green Bay Packers. It was with the Packers where he was in charge of protecting the blind side of the $100 million quarterback, Aaron Rodgers. That starting job only came about because Bakhtiari, a fourth-round pick earlier in the year, had to step in for an injured Bryan Bulaga.
Now, even with former first-round picks Bulaga and Derek Sherrod healthy, the starting left tackle role is Bakhtiari’s to lose. It’s safe to say that Bakhtiari has made a lot of progress in a very short period of time.
Last season, simply hanging tough and being competent was enough to give Bakhtiari a passing grade. Though ProFootballFocus was not impressed with him — awarding Bakhtiari a season rating of minus-6.4, he was on the field for 99 percent of the snaps and showed improvement late in the regular season.
Bakhtiari is No. 11 on this list because "hanging tough and being competent" no longer warrants a passing grade. He needs to show steady development toward being Green Bay’s starting left tackle over the next decade, a task that his ability has him capable of achieving.
EXPECTATIONS FOR 2014
Staying healthy is always a prerequisite of success in the NFL. Bulaga’s injuries have slowed his career drastically and have taken the prominent left tackle job away from him. Sherrod has seen the vast majority of his first three years lost due to injury. So, first and foremost, Bakhtiari has to stay available.
ProFootballFocus is not the end-all of football analysis, but Bakhtiari can’t spend a second consecutive season as its lowest-rated Packers offensive lineman.
He’s already a good pass protector, but in order for Green Bay to maximize the talent of Josh Sitton at left guard, Bakhtiari has to get a lot better at run-blocking. Eddie Lacy makes it relatively easy for the Packers’ offensive linemen to look good blocking for him, but that was Bakhtiari’s biggest weakness as a rookie.
Bakhtiari shouldn’t be expected to make the Pro Bowl in 2014, but if he can provide further glimpses that make Green Bay’s front office and coaching staff feel good about him as the starting left tackle for years to come, he’ll have done his job.
WHAT WOULD THEY DO WITHOUT HIM?
Head coach Mike McCarthy has stated that Sherrod looks and feels more comfortable on the left side of the offensive line. Therefore, if Bakhtiari gets injured or doesn’t perform well, it will likely be Sherrod stepping into that spot. That means Bulaga would stay put at right tackle and Don Barclay would remain as the flex lineman, ready to enter at just about every other spot.
Bulaga or Barclay are viable options at left tackle, though, especially if Sherrod gets his shot and doesn’t do a good enough job. The Packers would clearly prefer not to shift Bulaga back to left tackle (where he was being trained during the 2013 training camp before tearing his ACL), but an injury to Bakhtiari would assuredly make Bulaga the team’s most experienced — and probably best overall — offensive tackle.
Like Bulaga, Barclay has experience at right tackle, not left tackle. But the jack-of-all-trades Barclay will be asked to do it all for Green Bay if the team is in a pinch, and that could include taking over for Bakhtari if necessary.
The Packers also have undrafted rookie John Fullington and second-year tackle Jeremy Vujnovich, but neither is likely to make the active roster this season.