Quarterback is the NFL’s most important position. If you have one, you can win the Super Bowl. If you don’t have one, you have almost no chance of competing.
So it should come as no surprise that 21 of the NFL’s 32 projected starting quarterbacks were first-round selections.
Interestingly, almost the same number of starting left tackles — 20 — were first-round picks. David Bakhtiari, a fourth-round pick in 2013, is one of seven starters taken in the fourth round or later. That makes him a minority at a critical position.
“Yeah, I’m Persian.”
OK, so Bakhtiari is funny and good. Really good. Not only was Bakhtiari the 109th selection in 2013, but he was the ninth offensive tackle off the board, with Eric Fisher (No. 1, Chiefs), Luke Joeckel (No. 2, Jaguars) and Lane Johnson (No. 4, Eagles) going in the top four picks and D.J. Fluker (No. 11, Chargers) and Justin Pugh (No. 19, Giants) joining them in the top 20. Bakhtiari has started more games than any other tackle from that draft. The Packers have entrusted him to protect Aaron Rodgers’ blind side while giving him little, if any, help in even the toughest matchups.
All of which begs the question: What did everybody miss?
“They missed a lot, apparently,” Bakhtiari said. “That’s their fault. Green Bay didn’t miss.”
“I definitely know that,” Bakhtiari added of how he’s a rarity at the position. “When you think of starting quarterbacks and you think of starting left tackles and you think of the premier pass rushers, you usually think of the first-rounders. Maybe sometimes you get a gem in the second round.”
Certainly not the fourth round. But sinking so deep in the draft was hardly the first time Bakhtiari has been slighted — or the first time he’s responded.
“I’ve always enjoyed people telling me what I can’t do,” Bakhtiari said. “In high school, I didn’t play until my senior year and my coach always told me, ‘As long as I’m the head coach, you’re never going to set foot on my field and start.’ Colleges were telling me I’m too small, not strong enough. NFL telling me I’m a guard or center. I’m like, ‘That’s cool. That’s fine, but you’re going to wish I was out there.’ Obviously, Green Bay liked what they saw in me and I was able to get my opportunities and ran away with them.”
Not only was Bakhtiari a steal in terms of draft status but he’s been a steal financially. Last season, 40 left tackles had a higher cap charge than Bakhtiari. He allowed five sacks but was at his best once he got past a preseason ankle injury, with zero sacks in his final 10 games. This year, he ranks 32nd in cap.
That, of course, is going to change. Bakhtiari is scheduled to become a free agent in the offseason. If draft status shows what teams think of the importance of left tackles, money talks even louder.
Including Fisher’s $48 million extension with the Chiefs, 19 left tackles are earning at least $7 million per season. That includes 13 making at least $9 million.
As has been well-documented, the Packers are going to have some difficult choices to make, with standout veteran guards T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton and versatile J.C. Tretter also slated to become free agents. Can the Packers afford that heavy price tag? Then again, can they not afford to keep him? Not only is he a solid starter, but he’s an ascending player who will turn only 25 on Sept. 30?
“Every year, technique’s huge, strength is huge,” he said. “I had a real good offseason — probably my strongest offseason — and I’m healthy and feeling in condition. All of those things come together. From the years of understanding the game, I’ve been able to pick up on things. ‘OK, obviously the guy wants to bull rush me.’ How can I manipulate what he wants to do against him?’ The proof is in the pudding.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.