FOX Sports Wisconsin’s Paul Imig provides complete coverage of the Packers and the 2015 NFL Draft in his 14-part preview. You can find the entire series here.
TODAY’S POSITION: OFFENSIVE TACKLES
Importance (1-to-10 scale): 4
On the roster
Bryan Bulaga played like one of the NFL’s best right tackles last season. After missing all of 2013 with a torn ACL and the final seven games of 2012 with a fractured hip, Bulaga missed just one game in 2014. Health is the most important aspect for him because when he’s on the field, Bulaga is very good. The Packers hope that major injuries are now behind him after re-signing Bulaga to a five-year, $33.75 million contract this offseason. Only being 26 years old, this could be the prime of Bulaga’s career if he can stay healthy.
When Green Bay selected David Bakhtiari in the fourth round of the 2013 draft, it was unlikely that the then-21-year-old was going to become the full-time starting left tackle right away. But with Bulaga’s torn ACL happening during Family Night in 2013, Bakhtiari got pressed into starting duty and given the task of protecting the blind side of Aaron Rodgers. As a rookie, Bakhtiari was rated by ProFootballFocus as the seventh-worst offensive tackle in the NFL (among those who played at least 75 percent of the snaps). Bakhtiari improved his rating in 2014, but there were still only 11 offensive tackles with lower a ProFootballFocus rating than him. Bakhtiari won’t turn 24 years old until September, so he has a lot of time to grow. The best thing going in Bakhtiari’s favor thus far in his career is that he’s stayed healthy. That’s a critical component to improving as a player and staying part of the Packers’ plans going forward.
Don Barclay can play any spot on the offensive line. After starting 21 games at right tackle between 2012 and 2013, Barclay proved he can step into that position for an extended period of time, if necessary. Barclay’s 2014 season was lost due to a torn ACL, but Green Bay brought him back this offseason as a restricted free agent. Having Barclay behind Bulaga and Bakhtiari helps limit any immediate need for the Packers to draft an offensive tackle, though it still doesn’t eliminate the possibility.
Like Barclay, JC Tretter can play any position. However, unlike Barclay (who’s a tackle/guard), Tretter is currently listed as a center/guard on Green Bay’s official roster. Tretter played 58 snaps between left and right tackle during the 2014 season. Practice-squad player Jeremy Vujnovich rounds out the Packers’ current offensive tackles.
Last five offensive tackles drafted
Philosophy at the position
Ted Thompson has invested quite heavily at offensive tackle over the past five years. Green Bay used first-round picks in back-to-back years at the position, but Thompson has since only ventured into the seventh and fourth rounds to add new pieces.
Results have been mixed for Thompson when drafting offensive tackles. Bulaga and Bakhtiari are the success stories, while Sherrod is obviously a major bust.
With Bakhtiari’s rookie contract having two years left on it and Bulaga now being locked in to a new deal through 2019, Thompson doesn’t need to be on the lookout for a starting tackle in this year’s draft. The Packers also have fairly solid depth at the position heading into 2015. But Bulaga needs to put together a few consecutive healthy seasons for Thompson to feel more secure, and Bakhtiari has to show continued improvement this upcoming season in order for Green Bay to feel completely confident in him as the starting left tackle of the future.
As always, though, if the right player falls far enough and represents good value, Thompson won’t hesitate to add to his offensive tackle group.
Day 1 name to remember (Round 1)
T.J. Clemmings, fifth-year senior, Pittsburgh (6-4, 309 pounds; age 23)
Playing offensive tackle is quite new to Clemmings. Playing football at all is fairly new to him. He began playing the sport during his junior year of high school as a defensive end. Clemmings was recruited to Pittsburgh to play defense and didn’t switch to offense until his fourth year of college. He started every game at right tackle over his final two seasons at Pittsburgh. This isn’t a class of elite offensive tackles. Many draft experts have varying rankings of where the best ones fall, one through five. Clemmings is the fifth-rated offensive tackle by Joel Klatt at FOX Sports and is rated No. 2 by NFLDraftScout.com. Among the top five tackles, Clemmings might be the most likely to be on the board when the Packers are up at No. 30.
Clemmings said during the Scouting Combine: "At the time I wasn’t having the success I wanted on defense, and offensive line was literally my last option. I wanted to get back on the field. I wanted to start again. Just thinking about being on the field again, wherever that was, it made it feel right."
Day 2 name to remember (Rounds 2-3)
Donovan Smith, fourth-year junior, Penn State (6-5, 338 pounds; age 21)
Smith is the second-heaviest offensive tackle in this year’s draft. Only TCU’s Tayo Fabuluje weighs more (353 pounds). If drafted by Green Bay, Smith would become the Packers’ heaviest player, beating out B.J. Raji by one pound. However, because the Packers don’t need a starting tackle right now (and arguably don’t even need a top backup right away), Smith could be worth the gamble if he’s on the board when Green Bay is up at No. 94. Smith has a 2nd-to-3rd-round grade from NFLDraftScout.com, so the value would be good at the end of the third round. Smith won’t turn 22 years old until June, and he obviously studies well after graduating early with a degree in criminology. Smith was a starting left tackle for the past three seasons.
Day 3 name to remember (Rounds 4-7)
Rob Havenstein, fifth-year senior, Wisconsin (6-7, 321 pounds; age 22)
After not drafting a Badgers player since 2001, maybe the Packers make it two consecutive years and have Havenstein join Jared Abbrederis and Scott Tolzien. Havenstein has a 3rd-to-4th-round grade from NFLDraftScout.com. If Green Bay didn’t add an offensive tackle with its first three picks, Havenstein would represent good value at No. 129. Havenstein only played right tackle at Wisconsin, starting 42 games at that spot over his career. It’s believed by most draft experts that Havenstein could also play guard in the NFL, and the Packers could use a strong backup behind Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang.