Zach Tom, Rasheed Walker ascend as Packers OT tandem in Year 2

Zach Tom made good on his potential to become the team’s breakout player, and Rasheed Walker would likely win the prize as the team’s most unexpected starter. The playoff-bound Green Bay Packers got an excellent second season from Tom at right tackle and used vast improvement from Walker during his first season as the starter at left tackle to take off down the stretch in 2023.

The ascending second-year offensive tackle tandem finished the regular season in excellent form and will now prepare to take on Micah Parsons and the Dallas Cowboys in the wildcard round.

Tom, a fourth-round pick in 2022, played over 1,000 snaps at right tackle and gave up only two sacks. He remained trustworthy as a pass-blocker and made drastic improvements as a run blocker, helping fuel a final ranking as the NFL’s No. 11 overall offensive tackle in terms of grade at Pro Football Focus. In true Bakhtiarian fashion, Tom quietly got the job every week. He gave up 33 total pressures, but over a third of those pressures came while he battled through a knee injury and faced a tough stretch of rushers, including Aidan Hutchinson and Maxx Crosby. Only once has Tom been beaten for a sack since the start of November.

Speaking of late-season surges, Walker — a seventh-round pick in 2022 — has been excellent since Week 9. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, Walker allowed just 16 pressures and ranked as the sixth-best offensive tackle in all of football by overall grade over the final 10 weeks. Struggles during the first half of the season led to rotating snaps with Yosh Nijman for a stretch, but Walker rose to the challenge and has re-gained his status as a full-time player at left tackle over the last five games. After committing eight penalties during his first eight games, Walker has just two over the final nine. Like so many others on the roster, experience has allowed Walker to settle in and play at a higher level.

For as much as Jordan Love and the young wide receivers and tight ends deserve credit for their ascension during the second half of the season, it would be foolish to overlook the importance of Tom and Walker to establishment of stability along the offensive line for both Love and the passing game and even the run game down the stretch.

It will be interesting to see how the Packers construct the offensive line in 2024 and beyond. Tom’s performance at right tackle in 2023 would make him difficult to move even considering his unique versatility. He’s too good at mirroring rushers to play anywhere but tackle. While David Bakhtiari might return to Green Bay next season, his future remains cloudy, and Walker’s improvement gives the Packers an incredibly valuable option at left tackle.

First things first: a trip to Dallas. The Packers must keep Love protected to beat Parsons and the Cowboys on Sunday. Can Tom and Walker rise to the occasion against one of the NFL’s most disruptive defenses in their first playoff start? The performance of both during the second half of the season gives the Packers a real chance at hanging with the NFC East champions at AT&T Stadium in the wildcard round.

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire