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 every report 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. 21 – JOSH SITTON, LEFT GUARD
27 (turns 28 in mid-June 2014)/Seventh NFL season
WHY HE’S NO. 21
If this was a list intended to rank the Packers’ best players, Josh Sitton would be in the top five. Sitton is coming off a 2013 season in which he was a second-team All-Pro selection at guard. He’s also been rated by ProFootballFocus as one of the NFL’s best eight guards for five consecutive seasons.
That’s not a misprint: Sitton has, in fact, been a top-8 ranked guard for five years in a row. Now that’s consistency at a very high level. Perhaps even more impressive is that Sitton was rated as the second-best overall guard in the league in both 2010 and 2013.
If it wasn’t obvious, all of these achievements clearly make Sitton the best offensive lineman that Green Bay has. Last offseason, head coach Mike McCarthy believed that Sitton would be more valuable if playing at left guard, so the Packers moved the 2008 fourth-round pick out of a spot at right guard that he’d been playing for nearly a decade. That switch certainly worked out well for Sitton and for Green Bay.
Sitton is No. 21 on this list because excellence has become his standard. It’s expected that Sitton dominates the majority of his matchups on the offensive line, because he’s been doing it since the moment he became a full-time starter in 2009. If there was any concern whatsoever that Sitton could falter, it’d make his upcoming season a more important one to the Packers’ overall success. Green Bay has been somewhat spoiled by Sitton’s level of play, too. But a guard, even a great one, can only add so many extra points for an offense and so many extra wins for a team.
EXPECTATIONS FOR 2014
It may be unfair to Sitton to expect him to be no worse than the eighth-best guard in the NFL, but he can blame — thank, actually — his past five seasons of work for that.
Sitton has remained relatively healthy throughout his career, missing only two starts since 2009. He’s also just turning 28 years old this summer, and as Philadelphia Eagles guard (and 2013 first-team All-Pro) Evan Mathis showed last season, this is a position that can be played at a high level at age 32. That means, if Sitton can stay free of major injuries, he should still be playing at an elite level for at least another five years.
WHAT WOULD THEY DO WITHOUT HIM?
Between a lack of injury history and how well Sitton performs every season, there seems little reason to worry about who’s behind him on the depth chart. But injuries do happen, and sometimes there’s not much a player can do about that.
If Sitton were to miss any time, it would likely be Don Barclay sliding into the left guard role. Barclay has started 18 regular-season games already in his two-year career, but all of those starts have come at right tackle. However, with Bryan Bulaga recovered from a knee injury and moving to right tackle, and with David Bakhtiari having the left tackle job as his to lose, Barclay will likely be the first offensive lineman off the bench no matter what.
Barclay is versatile, allowing him to sub in for Bulaga, Bakhtiari, Sitton, T.J. Lang or even the starting center (whether that ends up being JC Tretter or Corey Linsley).
Other options behind Sitton could include Tretter if he loses out to Linsley for the starting center role. Lane Taylor, an undrafted player in 2013 who the Packers kept on the active roster last season, would also be a possibility to step in for Sitton.