Grading on a Salary Cap Curve: Offensive Line

In Part 4 of our series, we grade the performance of one of the league's most powerful offensive lines. The Packers got big-time production from their high-priced guards and right tackle, and surprising outputs from their young center and left tackle. (Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY)

We’re taking a different spin on everyone’s favorite end-of-season exercise — player grades — by grading on a curve. Building a roster means building around the restraints of the salary cap, so our grades are based relative to the players’ salary-cap worth on the roster.

Part 4 of our “Grading on a Salary Cap Curve” series continues with the offensive line. Salary cap figures are from a source with access to NFLPA salary data. Stats are from the regular season and compiled by ProFootballFocus.com, unless otherwise noted.

LT David Bakhtiari

2014 cap number: $608,850.

2014 recap: No positions are dominated by first-round picks like quarterbacks and left tackles. Based on Week 17 depth charts, there were 21 starting quarterbacks who entered the league as first-round picks, with left tackle not far behind with 18. So, the Packers found gold with Bakhtiari, a fourth-round pick in 2013 and the ninth tackle selected in that draft. After a solid rookie season, Bakhtiari spent the offseason getting stronger. That showed in the passing game. Bakhtiari yielded six sacks, five quarterback hits and 18 hurries for a total of 29 total pressures. Compare that to 2013, when he gave up eight sacks, four hits and 27 hurries for a total of 39 pressures. According to STATS, he was guilty of six holding penalties in each of his two seasons. Now, the next step is being better in the run game. According to league data, backs averaged a 21st-ranked 3.90 yards per carry over left tackle. He’s hardly dominant — he was ranked 21st among starting left tackles by Pro Football Focus — but he won’t turn 24 until early next season, so he probably hasn’t reached his ceiling. His grade is the worst among the Packers’ starters, but only because one of them had to be the worst.

Season grade: B.

LG Josh Sitton

2014 cap number: $6,400,000.

2014 recap: It was another superlative season for Sitton, who just missed first-team All-Pro honors and was the league’s fourth-ranked guard, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Forget about beating him in the passing game. According to PFF, he allowed no sacks, four quarterback hits and six hurries for a total of 10 pressures, and he hasn’t allowed a sack since Week 3 of the 2013 season. Six guards didn’t allow a sacks this season; only Cincinnati’s Kevin Zeitler allowed fewer pressures (nine but in 192 pass-blocking snaps). According to STATS, Sitton allowed no sacks and was penalized just once for holding. He battled through a painful toe injury sustained in Week 8 that drastically limited his practice reps, though you hardly would have known it. According to league data, backs averaged a ninth-ranked 4.70 yards per carry behind Sitton.

Season grade: A-minus.

C Corey Linsley

2014 cap number: $466,250.

2014 recap: Linsley’s season was nothing short of remarkable. If everyone would have been healthy, the rookie fifth-round pick would have been the eighth lineman on the roster and might not have played a single snap. Instead, he was thrown into the starting lineup without taking a rep with the full No. 1 offense during the preseason but hit the ground running. He wound up the fifth-best center in the league, according to PFF’s player rankings. He gave up one sack, two quarterback hits and 12 hurries for a total of 15 pressures. In 2013, Evan Dietrich-Smith yielded five sacks, one hit and eight hurries for a total of 14 pressures. According to league data, runs behind center averaged a 13th-ranked 4.14 yards per carry. He was flagged three times for holding (twice in Week 4) and four times overall — including an 11-game penalty-free stretch — according to STATS. Strong, smart and remarkably poised, Linsley never caused the Packers an ounce of trouble, regardless of who was lined up across from him. He was picked for the All-Rookie team and even earned an All-Pro vote. Asked early in the season if Linsley had shown signs of being the team’s long-term answer at the position, line coach James Campen scoffed. Now, there’s no doubt who will be lining up at center in 2015 and beyond.

Season grade: A.

RG T.J. Lang

2014 cap number: $5,100,000.

2014 recap: Lost in the shadow of Sitton, Lang is one of the game’s most underrated guards. In fact, according to ProFootballFocus.com’s player rankings, Lang checked in at No. 3 — one spot ahead of Sitton. Lang has blossomed into a tough, physical, no-nonsense blocker and is a budding leader on the team. Even while playing hurt for the second half of the season, he allowed three sacks, two quarterback hits and 11 hurries for a total of 16 pressures. (STATS had him for a career-low two sacks.) Compare that to three sacks and 24 pressures in 2013, his first season at right guard. Lang’s two penalties (both for holding) were the fewest among the offensive linemen. The Packers averaged a seventh-ranked 4.51 yards per carry behind right guard, according to league data.

Season grade: A-minus.

RT Bryan Bulaga

2014 cap number: $3,829,000.

2014 recap: Welcome back. After missing 26 consecutive games in 2012 and 2013 (including playoffs), Bulaga’s 2014 got off to a bad start when he sustained a minor knee injury that forced him from the lineup for half of the Week 1 game against Seattle and all of the Week 2 game against the Jets. Bulaga returned with a vengeance, which was good to see from one of the hardest-working players on the team. Among right tackles, he was the fourth-best in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. He gave up four sacks, two hits and 20 hurries for a total of 26 pressures. That’s almost what he did in nine games in 2012 (four sacks, three hits, 20 hurries for 27 pressures). According to league data, the Packers averaged an 11th-ranked 4.54 yards on runs behind right tackle. He was flagged just twice for holding, according to STATS. Other than perhaps San Diego’s King Dunlap, a solid performer at the critical left tackle position, Bulaga might be the top offensive lineman on the free-agent market.

Season grade: B.

J.C. Tretter

2014 cap number: $598,977.

2014 recap: Injuries have been the story of Tretter’s career. A fourth-round pick in 2013, he didn’t play as a rookie because of a major ankle injury sustained during OTAs. In 2014, he had easily beaten out Linsley as the center until sustaining a knee injury during the third preseason game. That cost him the first eight games of the season. He played 58 snaps at four positions during the regular season, including at right tackle vs. Buffalo, when he played well until allowing a sack-strip that doomed the team’s last-gasp comeback attempt. As an extra blocker in short-yardage situations, the Packers scored touchdowns against the Eagles, Falcons and Bills but went 0-for-7 the rest of the season, according to the official play-by-plays. That includes the two failed goal-line runs against Seattle in the NFC title game. He’s got a legit chance to be the team’s utilityman next season.

Season grade: F.

Lane Taylor

2014 cap number: $497,333.

2014 recap: Taylor played 130 regular-season snaps, including 65 at guard after Lang injured his ankle in the loss at New Orleans. He had a tough night — though, in fairness, being thrown into the lineup against a dome team wouldn’t be easy on anyone. Taylor joined Tretter in a jumbo package in five games. After the touchdowns vs. the Eagles, Falcons and Bills, the Packers went 0-for-3 — including the two failures against Seattle. If Bulaga and Don Barclay return, Taylor will face an uphill battle to make the roster.

Season grade: F.

Garth Gerhart

2014 cap number: $420,000.

2014 recap: Campen all offseason kept mentioning Gerhart as a contender at center. That never got close to happening, but at least he made the team. He was active in five games and played a total of 25 snaps from scrimmage in back-to-back wins over the Bears and Eagles. He performed relatively well in those games, though he’ll face an uphill battle to make the roster next season.

Season grade: F.

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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