The Green Bay Packers want to keep building competition along the offensive line in an attempt to find the “best five,” a phrase often used by coach Matt LaFleur, but general manager Brian Gutekunst feels good about what he has in Rasheed Walker and Zach Tom at the offensive tackle spots entering the 2024 offseason.
Walker, a seventh-round pick in 2022, took over for David Bakhtiari at left tackle entering Week 2 and improved greatly down the stretch. Tom, a fourth-rounder in 2022, started all 19 games at right tackle and played at a near Pro Bowl level. Walker might have been the team’s most improved player overall; Tom might have been the team’s top breakout player not named Jordan Love.
While Bakhtiari’s roster status remains in question to start the offseason, the Packers believe Walker has a “bright future” and the ability to play offensive tackle on both sides of the line.
“I think he did a great job,” Gutekunst said Thursday. “You have to give the kid a lot of credit. First of all, his work ethic over the offseason and how tremendously he improved. He fought through some things this year injury wise, he was a warrior out there. He’s done a great job, I’m really glad we have him. I think he can play left and right. We’ll see how it all shakes out…he did a lot of good things. He’s got a bright future and he’s only going to get better. We’re excited about him.”
Walker didn’t play as a rookie and entered training camp as no better than the third option at left or right tackle. But he overtook Yosh Nijman in training camp and became a vital piece of the offensive line puzzle in 2023.
After some expected ups and downs during the first two months spawned a brief rotation with Nijman at left tackle, Walker allowed only 16 total pressures and committed only three penalties over the Packers’ final 10 games, including the playoffs.
Tom might have been one of the NFL’s most underrated offensive tackles in 2023. Among all offensive tackles with at least 600 snaps, Tom ranked fifth in run-blocking grade, 14th in pass-blocking efficiency and tied for fifth in penalties.
Tom is also one of the NFL’s most versatile linemen, but the Packers might be hard-pressed to move him after such an impressive season at right tackle.
“He played really well at right tackle this year, so to move him around I think will be hard on the coaching staff,” Gutekunst said. “At the same time, he’s a guy that can play all five spots and he can be really good at all five of them. It’ll be dependent on what we have and where we need him.”
Gutekunst said he wants to continue building out the offensive line to ensure competition is available at every spot. If the Packers believe Walker can play both sides of the line and Tom is a candidate at all five spots, it’s possible a future scenario exists where the team moves Walker to the right side and Tom to an interior position like center and then uses a high draft pick on a long-term left tackle. But having Walker and Tom coming off such encouraging seasons provides stability at two premium positions entering the offseason.
“I think we’re going to try and get the five best guys we can out there at all times,” Gutekunst said. “It’ll be our job to bring in some guys and have healthy competition there.”