The Green Bay Packers (3-2) had quite the test in Maryland against the defending Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens (3-3) on Sunday, and despite the way the Packers offense played in a 19-17 slugfest, the team has to be happy with their rookie left tackle.
David Bakhtiari, one of three players selected by the Packers in the fourth round of this past April’s NFL Draft, wasn’t expected to be a starter this season along the offensive line in Green Bay.
The Packers offensive line, from left tackle to right tackle, was supposed to consist of Bryan Bulaga, Josh Sitton, Evan Dietrich-Smith, T.J. Lang, and either Don Barclay or Marshall Newhouse. Even Newhouse, who allowed 23 sacks the previous two seasons, was expected to be ahead of Bakhtiari on the depth chart heading into the 2013 season.
Bulaga, the Packers first round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, has been a starter since his rookie year and had become one of the better offensive tackles in the NFC. He suffered a season-ending knee injury early in training camp, and in Packer nation there was no way to replace arguably the Packers’ best offensive lineman.
Bakhtiari was so impressive in training camp and wowed Packers coaches that he earned the starting job at left tackle over Newhouse.
On Sunday, Terrell Suggs had a quiet day while lining up across from Bakhtiari, registering ten tackles and only one tackle for loss, including zero sacks. Coming into Sunday’s game, Suggs had recorded seven sacks (4th in NFL), helping lead a Ravens’ team which had tallied 19 sacks (2nd) through the first five games.
Fourth round pick or top pick, it doesn’t matter; Bakhtiari has been outstanding for any rookie left tackle. Against Suggs he was great, and the Packers must understand that they have a keeper along the offensive line in the youngster from Colorado.
Last season, the Packers offensive line had allowed defenders to register 51 sacks on quarterback Aaron Rodgers (no NFL quarterback was sacked more than Rodgers in 2012). Through the first five games last year, the offensive line had allowed 21 sacks on Rodgers. In three of those first five games, the offensive line had allowed at least five sacks.
With the Packers’ surprise upgrade at left tackle, though, the offensive line has allowed 15 sacks and has yet to allow five sacks in a game this season.
The offensive line isn’t perfect, but Bakhtiari has shown he is a legitimate NFL left tackle.
Fans must understand that Bakhtiari isn’t going to play against a guy like Suggs in every game. Suggs has ten years of NFL experience on Bakhtiari, and Packer nation must understand the rookie left tackle will only improve from Sunday’s game, even with such an outstanding performance.
Bakhtiari has been a tremendous upgrade for the Packers in their run blocking as well. Rookie running back Eddie Lacy led all ball-carriers with a career-high 120 yards on 23 carries against the Ravens, as the Packers have now had a player rush for 99 or more yards in four of five games this season.
Bakhtiari is a rare kind of rookie who doesn’t get rattled either and plays with an excellent amount of confidence. Bakhtiari isn’t close to being finished, though; he is just getting started.