Rankings Don't Tell Whole Story About Packers Rookie LT David Bakhtiari

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Rankings Don't Tell Whole Story About Packers Rookie LT David Bakhtiari
Brian Kersey/Getty Images
In spite of his ranking, rookie LT David Bakhtiari has impressed Green Bay's coaches as he steps into his starting role.

Green Bay Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari never expected to be protecting Aaron Rodgers' blind side as a rookie.

Green Bay made its investment in Bryan Bulaga clear in May 2013, when they rewarded his elevated play by moving him from the right side to left tackle.

Don Barclay would then compete with Marshall Newhouse for the starting job on the right side, before ultimately earning it in training camp.

Bakhtiari, who was drafted by the Packers in the fourth round of the NFL draft in April, was expected to be a reserve on the right side. But when Bulaga tore his ACL in the preseason, Bakhtiari was thrust into the spotlight, hopping over Newhouse on the depth chart and joining Barclay as a starting tackle.

And contrary to his Pro Football Focus ranking (subscription required) as the fifth-worst starting left tackle in the league, he's doing a great job—considering he is also the league's only rookie starting left tackle.

There are certainly some areas in which Bakhtiari could use improvement, but in others, he's doing far better than his spot would suggest. Let's break it down.

(Note that the below rankings are among the league's 32 starting left tackles only—players who have played a minimum of 200 snaps and four games through Week 7.) 

David Bakhtiari (Among Starting LT Only, 250+ Snaps)
Overall Pass Blocking Run Blocking Penalties Sacks Allowed Hits Allowed Hurries Allowed
28th 27th 30th 5 (28th) 4 (25th) 2 (12th) 11 (14th)

Pro Football Focus

First, let's begin with the area in which Bakhtiari is doing a great job: pressure. It's clear that among all starting left tackles, Bakhtiari is efficient in giving Rodgers time in the pocket, especially with respect to limiting quarterback hits and hurries.

It's worth noting, when discussing pressure, that Rodgers is an especially difficult quarterback for a rookie tackle to defend, because of how long he holds on to the ball. To truly gauge Bakhtiari's performance in 2013, we need to take a brief look back at pressure on Rodgers in 2012. 

In 2012, Rodgers took, on average, 2.88 seconds to throw the ball, according to Pro Football Focus. That put him at 23rd among quarterbacks who took 60 percent or more of their team's snaps. He also led the league in sacks, with 51

Related to Rodgers' pressure in 2012 was the performance of the offensive line, ranked 21st in the league by Pro Football Focus. The table below shows how many of Rodgers' sacks, hits and hurries were attributed to each player at the position he played the majority of the season.

2012 Offensive Line Pressure Allowed on Rodgers
Games Played at Position Sacks Allowed Hits Allowed Hurries Allowed
Marshall Newhouse (LT) 16 8 6 32
T.J. Lang (LG) 11 6 2 8
Evan Dietrich-Smith (LG) 5 2 2 5
Jeff Saturday (C) 15 3 2 5
Josh Sitton (RG) 16 3 2 12
Bryan Bulaga (RT) 9 4 3 20
T.J. Lang (RT) 4 3 3 4
Don Barclay (RT) 5 4 3 13

Pro Football Focus

It's immediately clear that a big portion of the O-line's poor performance in 2012 fell on Newhouse's shoulders. He alone was responsible for 16 percent of the total season's sacks on Rodgers (keeping in mind the sack numbers above don't add up to 51, as not every sack is attributable to an offensive lineman).

Aside from the loss of Bulaga, the major personnel change to the line from last season to now is the swapping of Newhouse and Bakhtiari at left tackle.

Yes, T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton swapped sides (with Sitton now starting on the left side and Lang on the right) and Evan Dietrich-Smith replaced Jeff Saturday at center. Don Barclay has started at right tackle all year. 

And the move from right to left for Sitton was largely designed to give Bakhtiari some help, so Sitton's role in protecting Rodgers, so far, can't be underestimated. 

But the change that has very likely had the most impact on the line, propelling it to a 11th-overall ranking by Football Outsiders, is the addition of Bakhtiari.

The line, as a whole, has made a clear improvement. Rodgers has taken 15 sacks so far, which puts him at 15th-most in the league—a significant upgrade from first. As this table from Football Outsiders shows, that's below NFL averages for sacks and adjusted sack rate.

Rodgers' current sack rate (2.5 per game) would put him on track to finish the season with only 37.5, 13.5 fewer than his total in 2012. 

And Bakhtiari, as a rookie, is doing as good a job as his veteran counterparts in keeping Rodgers out of pressure and off the ground.

Below, here are the number of sacks, hits and hurries attributed to each offensive lineman so far in 2013:

2013 Offensive Line Pressure Allowed on Rodgers
Games Played at Position Sacks Allowed Hits Allowed Hurries Allowed
David Bakhtiari (LT) 6 4 2 11
Josh Sitton (LG) 6 1 0 3
Evan Dietrich-Smith (C) 6 3 0 4
T.J. Lang (RG) 6 1 1 8
Don Barclay (RT) 6 4 4 11

Pro Football Focus

Bakhtiari's sack allowance may seem high. At four of 15, he's responsible for 27 percent of the sacks Rodgers has taken. However, so is the veteran Barclay, with center Dietrich-Smith not far behind at 20 percent. 

How many sacks has the rookie Bakhtiari allowed as compared to veteran Nate Solder, the No. 1 left tackle in the league per Pro Football Focus? They're equal, at four. And Solder has only allowed one fewer hurry (10) than Bakhtiari. 

Another of the league's best veteran tackles, Joe Thomas, has allowed the same number of hurries as Bakhtiari. 

When a rookie left tackle, who plays every snap, is performing as well in pressure as the best left tackle in the league, it's necessary to give him his due credit.

Going beyond the numbers, Bakhtiari also brings the physicality, power and relentlessness necessary for successful blind-side protection. 

Though he is 6'4" and 300 pounds, Bakhtiari often plays bent at the waist, and, according to Sports Illustrated's Doug Farrar, moves people "in ways you'd expect of a man 25 pounds heavier" due to his "excellent understanding of leverage," despite weighing in a little light for an offensive tackle. 

That's visible in the below film from Green Bay's Week 6 matchup against Baltimore.

Baltimore Ravens 10th-ranked inside linebacker, according to Pro Football Focus, Josh Bynes, is clearly coming after Rodgers, just follow his eyeline. Now, look at how Bakhtiari bends at his waist compared to the rest of the line. 

Then, he uses that leverage Farrar talked aboutto the extent that, when Bynes rushes at Rodgers, all he hits is a 300-pound wall.

This leaves Rodgers plenty of space on his blind side, and he only takes 1.74 seconds to release the ball after the snap.

That's a huge improvement from an average of 2.88 seconds per throw, and the credit on that play belongs almost entirely to Bakhtiari. 

In fact, Rodgers' average time to throw has dropped to 2.64 seconds this season, putting him at 10th among quarterbacks who have taken at least 60 percent of snaps under center, per Pro Football Focus

Bakhtiari will benefit from some development in run blocking—but that being said, for the first time in many years, the Packers have broken the top five in run offense.

Bakhtiari's overall Pro Football Focus grade in run blocking is minus-5.4. However, the grade is weighed down as a result of his performance grade (minus-2.4) for Week 3 in Cincinnati. 

His individual run-blocking grades in other weeks, where zero is average, have been just that, and his baseline score of minus-0.9 for Weeks 5 and 6, respectively, are joined by a stellar showing in Week 2, against Washington, that earned him an above-average score of 1.1.

He also performed exceptionally well in pass blocking in Week 2, with a score of 2.2. The outlier in Bakhtiari's pass-blocking scores, like his run-blocking grade, came against the Cincinnati Bengals, where he struggled for a minus-5.3 grade.

But none of his other pass-blocking grades have dipped below minus-1.7. He was joined in his struggle, against Cincinnati, by the rest of Green Bay's offense, and if he continues to perform as well as he did last week, in which he received an above-average grade of 1, the Week 3 mark will hold less weight.

Bakhtiari has handled his transition from rookie reserve to starting left tackle incredibly well.

Ultimately, a left tackle should be a quarterback's best friend but can turn into his worst nightmare. The quarterback is the boss, as far as the O-line is concerned, and right now, Bakhtiari is making the boss very happy. 

"Came into the season, didn't expect some of these guys to be playing as much as they are," Rodgers told Mike Vandermause at the Green Bay Press-Gazette. "David is a prime example of that. Didn't expect a whole lot from him but he's been pretty rock solid over there at left tackle."

The defense had some compliments for Bakhtiari, as well. The first day the league's No. 10, per Pro Football Focus, 3-4 defensive end, Mike Daniels, went against him, Bakhtiari rolled him back six yards.

Daniels told Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Bakhtiari reminded him of Sitton.  

Why?

"He's got that real nice, cool personality, but when he gets on the field he turns into a psychopath."

Whether he's feeling nice or nasty, of the 43 offensive tackles who have played 200-plus snaps, 20 have allowed more total pressure than Bakhtiari—and 38 of those 43 are veterans. 

The rookie's coming along just fine.  

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