Most Important Packers: No. 11 — Josh Sitton

Green Bay Packers beat writer Paul Imig will be analyzing the 25 most important players to the Packers’ success in the 2013 season. Check back each day to see the latest player on the list.

Note: This is not a list of the team’s 25 best players or a series about past success, but rather which of them means 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 — JOSH SITTON, LEFT GUARD

AGE / EXPERIENCE

27 / Sixth NFL season

WHY HE’S NO. 11

Josh Sitton is one of the best guards in the NFL and is the best offensive lineman on the Green Bay Packers’ roster. It doesn’t take much film study to see that. Sitton easily passes the eye test as being a dominant player at his position. There is also analysis from ProFootballFocus.com to support that notion. Since Sitton took over as a full-time starter in 2009, he’s been ranked no worse than eighth each season on their ratings for NFL guards. Four years as a starter and each one being that productive? That is about as good as it gets, especially for a player drafted in the fourth round.

If this was a series about listing the Packers’ best players in order, Sitton would be in the top five. He might even be as high as third overall, behind only quarterback Aaron Rodgers and outside linebacker Clay Matthews. However, Sitton doesn’t play one of the most important positions on the field. That doesn’t diminish his contributions, but there’s a reason that guards aren’t often high draft picks.

Sitton is No. 11 on this list because he’s nearly perfect at his job and has consistently been as important to Green Bay’s offense as any guard possibly could. An added bonus for the Packers is that Sitton just turned 27 years old and should still have several top-quality years left.

EXPECTATIONS FOR 2013

Sitton is making a big jump from right guard to left guard. Coach Mike McCarthy’s logic on that decision was simple: He wanted to get the team’s two best offensive linemen on the left side. That means Sitton and right tackle Bryan Bulaga are moving together from the right side of the line to the left.

If the Packers’ running game is going to improve, Sitton will play an important role in that. He isn’t quite as good of a run-blocker as he is as a pass-blocker, but Sitton is still very good in that area. Green Bay drafted Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin this year with the goal of ending its recent streak of being among the NFL’s worst rushing teams. Sitton can only do so much in changing that, but if he and Bulaga can do their part, McCarthy would seemingly prefer running left behind the two of them.

It’s not often that an elite-level offensive lineman like Sitton is asked to change positions. The old adage of ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ could apply to this situation. Sitton wasn’t the problem. The offensive line as a unit has been the problem, both in the running game and in allowing Rodgers to be sacked more last season than any quarterback in the league.

The expectation on Sitton in 2013 will be to make a seamless transition to left guard, have another Pro Bowl-caliber season and do what he can to keep Rodgers upright and to help the running attack be effective.

WHAT WOULD THEY DO WITHOUT HIM?

The Packers need Sitton to be healthy and productive. Without him, there would be a significant falloff due to how good Sitton is. With Evan Dietrich-Smith now the starting center, Green Bay doesn’t have its top interior lineman backup ready to come off the bench anymore.

Rookie fourth-round pick JC Tretter broke his ankle during organized team activities and won’t be ready until at least midseason. Tretter would likely have been the Packers’ top backup at all three interior line positions had his injury not happened.

Andrew Datko, a seventh-round pick in 2012 who was originally drafted as a tackle, has been training as a guard and could perhaps be the player to step in should something happen to Sitton.

None of these alternate scenarios would bode well for Green Bay. It’s not as if Sitton carries the same ‘can’t afford to lose him’ tag as Rodgers, but the Packers’ offensive line would almost certainly falter if Sitton doesn’t stay healthy or if he fails to live up to high expectations.

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