FOX Sports Wisconsin’s Paul Imig gives an in-depth statistical analysis and film study of every Packers player in his annual offseason checkup. Check every weekday through mid-April for his latest report.
David Bakhtiari, starting left tackle
Best game: Week 2 win over Washington (zero QB hurries allowed, zero sacks allowed, one penalty (holding), 3.8 PFF rating)
Worst game: Week 3 loss at Cincinnati (four QB hurries allowed, one sack allowed, one penalty (holding), minus-7.1 PFF rating)
Expectations at the start of the season: Low
Expectations were … Exceeded
Looking live: When the Packers drafted Bakhtiari with the 109th overall pick (fourth round) in the 2013 NFL Draft, it was certainly not with the idea that he’d spend his entire rookie season protecting the blind side of franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Bakhtiari was the youngest player on Green Bay’s roster, not even turning 22 until the team’s bye week. This was a player who spent his final year in college as a junior playing for a 1-11 University of Colorado team. Based on those qualifications alone, having him as a full-time starter seemed a bit risky for the Packers and a very difficult task to conquer for Bakhtiari. But when Bryan Bulaga tore his ACL in the Family Night scrimmage on Aug. 3, it was a fairly obvious move to give Bakhtiari a shot at left tackle and see how it goes. Derek Sherrod wasn’t medically cleared yet and Green Bay didn’t want to go another year with Marshall Newhouse in the starting lineup. That left Bakhtiari to learn on the job. By the end of the season, a year in which the only snaps that Bakhtiari missed were in the playoffs due to a concussion, the Packers realized they have a starting tackle in place for many years to come.
Upon further review: Bakhtiari certainly faced his fair share of major challenges in having to block a few of the NFL’s better pass rushers. While he wasn’t perfect, he held up quite well most of the time. On the positive side, there were two games in which Bakhtiari didn’t let his assignment lay a finger on Rodgers. Bakhtiari commented on a couple occasions that his goal was to be a "non-story," which, for the most part, he was. That’s because he had very few critical mistakes and had as many games in which he graded out positively as he did negatively (and two of the negative games were against the 49ers and Aldon Smith, which is to be expected for a rookie). Bakhtiari made good progress by the end of the regular season but then didn’t hold up well in the playoff loss to San Francisco. Looking at an early game in which Bakhtiari struggled in Cincinnati, he was beat frequently. On a 22-yard completion in the first quarter, Rodgers was crushed by Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson (who was being blocked solely by Bakhtiari with no help) despite getting rid of the pass in 2.1 seconds. Johnson pushed Bakhtiari straight back with almost no resistance. Bakhtiari would’ve allowed a sack to Johnson early in the second quarter had he not held him (for which he was flagged). But even with the holding penalty on that play, Rodgers still got hit around the knees by Johnson due to Bakhtiari’s inability to keep the pressure off. Johnson got the outside edge then used his inside arm to shove Bakhtiari out of the way. On the very next play, Johnson charged in on Bakhtiari, made a quick inside move and was barely touched on his way to sacking Rodgers. As a run blocker throughout the season, Bakhtiari benefitted from playing next to the team’s best offensive lineman (Josh Sitton), but he wasn’t nearly as good in this area as he was in pass blocking.
Status for 2014: Ninety-nine percent chance of being one of the Packers’ starting tackles. Does Green Bay keep Bakhtiari at left tackle or move him to the right side to give Bulaga back the spot that he lost upon injury? The most logical scenario has Bakhtiari remaining at left tackle in 2014 and beyond. If this is what Bakhtiari looks like when thrown into a situation that few thought he was ready for, he has an incredibly bright future. At age 22, he certainly has time to add strength to his 6-foot-4, 300-pound frame. Having this full season as a starter gained him invaluable experience that he can use to improve. Bakhtiari was an absolute steal in the fourth round, and the Packers are already seeing significant returns from a player who they didn’t expect to be so vital to their plans so early in his career. Get used to seeing Bakhtiari in the starting lineup, because it’s where he seems likely to stay for perhaps the rest of Rodgers’ career.