The Lass Word: Is Elgton Jenkins Too Good To Be A Guard?

Third year veteran dominating in camp on the outside.

   

When the Green Bay Packers began training camp last week, there was no question whom the coaching staff had decided would take over at left tackle while All Pro David Bakhtiari rehabs his knee injury.  Since day one, Elgton Jenkins has moved from his left guard spot over to tackle.  It’s always difficult to accurately assess line play when you’re not playing full contact football, but by all accounts, Jenkins has been unmovable.  Even edge rusher Rashan Gary, who is having an outstanding camp, embarrassing offensive linemen, has been unable to get around the third year veteran. 

 

“Elgton has really been impressive so far at left tackle” says Dean Lowry, who lines up on the other side of the ball every day.  “We know how powerful he is on the inside, so to see him really display his feet and his athleticism on the outside, that’s been really impressive just watching him.” 

 

The decision to go with Jenkins at LT represents a change of heart on the part of the coaching staff.  Starter Bakhtiari missed four regular season and two playoff games in 2020.  In each one of those games, the coaches chose to start Billy Turner over Jenkins at the position.  Turner was adequate for the most part, but looked badly overmatched against Tampa Bay’s aggressive defense in the NFC Championship game (as did the entire O-line).  Turner would wind up playing 217 snaps at left tackle, compared to just 27 for Jenkins. 

 

Apparently, the coaches decided that would change in 2021.  “Coach Steno (offensive line coach Adam Stenavich) told me I would get a shot at left tackle, so I’ve been working on it all offseason” Jenkins told the media Tuesday. 

 

The former second round pick has been a blue chip gem from the start.  In 2020, just his second year in the league, he made the Pro Bowl as a left guard.  But that doesn’t begin to tell the story.  During the season he played four of the five line positions.  27 snaps at left tackle, 681 at left guard, 297 at center, and 32 at right tackle.  Amazingly, he seems equally proficient everywhere he lines up.  In a total of 1,037 snaps, he allowed just one sack and merely two hits on the quarterback (per Pro Football Focus). 

 

Playing tackle is not new to him.  He played it for two years at Mississippi State, before he was shifted to center.  “I don’t really have a favorite position” he says,  “but I’m more comfortable at left guard right now.”  He credits Bakhtiari, Turner and all of the other O-linemen for helping him adjust to playing on the outside.   It’s going well in camp. Very well.  So well, in fact, that it brings up a poignant question: 

 

Is Jenkins too good, too talented, too valuable to be playing guard?  No disrespect to the guard position, but there is a reason that tackle is among the highest paid positions in the NFL.  It’s their job to stymie the league’s premier pass rushers.  Often, they are the guardians of the franchise, especially in Green Bay, where the health of a certain future Hall of Fame signal caller means everything to the team.  To make a run at the Super Bowl, you need the entire offensive line to be good.  You need your tackles to be great. 

 

Jenkins is clearly the second best O-lineman on the team.  As Bakhtiari ages and battles injuries, Jenkins may surpass him sooner than later.  Shouldn’t he be the permanent right tackle?  And the starter-in-waiting for the day Bakh retires?  Wouldn’t it be a better long term decision to make that move now?  Return Turner to right guard, use newly acquired Dennis Kelly, who started 16 games for the Titans last year, as the fill-in left tackle,, and let Lucas Patrick, Ben Braden and Jon Runyan compete for the left guard spot? 

 

Perhaps the reason the coaches would prefer to keep Jenkins at guard is the ability to field the best left side in the league, a side you can dependably run behind on third and short....a side you can bootleg to and not worry a renegade linebacker will flatten your quarterback.  Maybe, in the big picture, the coaches feel it’s better to be just okay on one side, if you can be outstanding on the other.   

 

There might be another reason.  This one economic.  The versatile athlete will be heading into a contract year in 2022, a year which is already a salary cap mess.  Jenkins, no matter where he plays, will be worth at or near the highest salary at his position.  Trent Williams and Bakhtiari currently share that distinction for tackles, averaging $23 million per year.  The highest paid guard is Washington’s Brandon Scherf at just over $18 million.  If you are the front office, which figure would you prefer to match?  The Packers would surely rather make Jenkins the highest paid guard than the highest paid tackle.  But to justify that, they must play him primarily as a guard. 

 

When the Packers open the season at New Orleans, Elgton Jenkins seems a lock to be the left tackle starter.  When David Bakhtiari comes back, it seems equally certain Jenkins will return to the inside.  Whatever the reason, I trust the coaches are making the right decision here.  But one has to wonder if it’s only a matter of time before he moves back to tackle...... and never leaves. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                 

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Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.

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9 points

Comments (27)

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Coldworld's picture

August 05, 2021 at 03:08 pm

Hard to tell without more games, but he looks like he can be a starting right T at least at this point. This year, after Bakh returns, that might not be where the best mix puts him in the interests of the team. But if he holds up at LT, he’s going to have a very strong case for being paid as one when, if not before, his next contract comes up. If he is really good, would the team pay him and Bakh? I doubt it. If he’s better at RT, then the same applies, maybe earlier. Football economics makes playing a good tackle as a guard long term almost unfeasible financially.

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Bearmeat's picture

August 05, 2021 at 05:45 pm

As far as I can tell, Turner’s last year is going to be cut regardless for cap reasons. So RT will be open in 22. But Ken raises a good point: playing Jenkins at RT for all of 22 raises his price considerably. I guess those are questions after this year. Deal with the now…

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Coldworld's picture

August 05, 2021 at 07:14 pm

His price is likely rising whether or not he does play. If others think he can, that is all that matters. They may do already.

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Duneslick's picture

August 05, 2021 at 03:28 pm

Having him on the left side to have 2 top lineman on the 1 side of the ball does not particularly work in short yardage as bak is only and average run blocker

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LambeauPlain's picture

August 06, 2021 at 11:55 am

Agree, Bahk is a sublime pass blocker. His run blocking is above average. Jenks is very very good at both.

I would not want to see it, but after the season, Bahk may be on the trade block due to the cap Tsunami in 2022. Jenks must be locked asap after the season or during the 2022 campaign.

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dobber's picture

August 06, 2021 at 09:49 pm

Bakhtiari's contract makes him unmovable until after 2022. The Packers incur an extra $17M in dead cap if they move him prior to the end of the 2022 season. His biggest cap hits come in '23 and '24, but his contract features significant roster bonuses each of the last 3 years.

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CoachDino's picture

August 05, 2021 at 03:38 pm

I've had that economic theory as well for some time and commented on it here in the past when discussing future Ol configurations as far back as a year. I'm not the only one. Think about it, LT vs LG avg salary is double. Why in the world would EJ test FA if not given a OT contract from GB?

I also think Ken is right in that you want one side of your line top be stronger, your go to side. The other can be avg and the difference between both being good and just one side is marginal - according to PFF analysts. So ya, maybe the packers get more bang for the buck keeping him at Guard pay, guard position.

Like we so often see when both sides (FO and Player) have an understanding of the value,market and relationship a compromise is in order. I see EJ possibly being paid RT money and playing RT, IF, they find a stud guard in this plethora of guard resources on the roster. The didn't draft an OT to play OT, they drafted OT to play guard (according to draft profiles and current reports on where there guys have lined up or in John R case played).

They can't afford to lose EJ unless he does go FA and gets good LT money, in that case they can't afford to keep him. I would be willing to bet Gute and team have already analyzed this situation for over a year, maybe two.

For all the people who get down on Gute, there's a reason the packers have so many negotiation issues. They have drafted so many studs along with FA's - It's the issues you want to have...It's a sign in reality of the opposite of what so many in the National Media try to portray as the narrative. Clueless FO, with no plans and missed opportunities to hit on draft picks (since they aren't WR
weapons")...

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LeotisHarris's picture

August 05, 2021 at 04:48 pm

Solid comment complete with a "plethora" sighting! ::fistbump::

Brothers and sisters, can we get an "aforementioned" for old times' sake?

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BradHTX's picture

August 05, 2021 at 07:04 pm

I’ll see your “aforementioned,” and raise you an “albeit.”

Considering the salary cap mess in the near future, I see Bakhtiari’s fat contract as low-hanging fruit to clear space if Jenkins plays LT well. I mean, who would you rather pay $25M/yr, a 30yo stud LT or a 24yo stud LT?

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Coldworld's picture

August 05, 2021 at 07:15 pm

If Rodgers goes I think that becomes likely.

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CoachDino's picture

August 05, 2021 at 10:57 pm

whats funny is inever used the term as it seemed so over played by announcers analysts. feel the same way about scrum. yet it just seemed to best convey my thoughts, so i used the aforemention word,albeit, begrudgingly.

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Rcariveau's picture

August 05, 2021 at 03:52 pm

Make sense to play him at tackle, I don't believe they touched Turners contract, so I wouldn't be surprised to see Turner gone next year and move Jenkins to tackle then. I am not sure coaches care about the economic, that is more for GM and Russ, but Lafluer always talks about having the best 5 linemen out there.

I think they should let Bak work his way back in give him a few weeks, then bring Bak back and see how the RT play is the first few weeks. If it is good, move Jenkins back to LG and have the best left side in the NFL.

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dobber's picture

August 06, 2021 at 09:35 am

They added a couple voidable years to Turner's contract this offseason.

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marpag1's picture

August 05, 2021 at 04:23 pm

It's a good question, but realistically, the Packers have little choice here. Assuming Jenkins continues to shine, the Packers will pay him as a tackle, or someone else will.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

August 05, 2021 at 05:40 pm

And the team should be able to do that. His fourth year is the 2022 season, so the team should be able to extend Jenkins - he is going to hit all the rookie performance bonuses - without cap issues. Just tack on five years with his initial signing/option bonus guaranteed for 2023. That does mean that the Packers can't hand Jenkins a boatload of cash in 2022 even though he deserves a good-sized sum. Jenkins will just have to understand that issue. If he doesn't, GB won't let him walk: they will franchise him.

Let me be clear: Jenkins so far isn't in Bakh's league as a Left Tackle. He had a 67.7 PFF grade for 2020 and a 69.2 the year before. He has had an elite LT and a very good to elite OC on either side of him. He is not as yet Anthony Munoz or more fitting, Jim Parker (5 first-team all pro awards at LT and 3 more at OG). A lot of Jenkins' value is that he can play all five OL positions well. Things will get clearer after this season.

LG Joe Thuney got $16M AAV, but he had to play out his contract, then play a year on the franchise tag. Andrus Peat and Roger Safford (who has similar PFF grades) are making $11.5M and $11M AAV, respectively.

Jenkins hasn't gotten enough reps and experience at LT or indeed at any one position to know what he might become.

It is a good problem to have.

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dobber's picture

August 06, 2021 at 09:38 am

"He has had an elite LT and a very good to elite OC on either side of him. "

THIS!!!

A good player, next to two great players probably looks great. He's still young, he's still learning. I'm not saying Jenkins isn't a great player, but he needs to be the regular LT and take his lumps against live fire when teams can prep for him week after week to know what his true value is out there.

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89Chewy's picture

August 05, 2021 at 05:57 pm

The guard position is just as vital. Teams are coming up the middle more and having a pro bowl guard to go up against a guy like Aaron Donald is a pretty good commodity. Leave him at guard, he gives us the best left side of the line in the league. He reminds me of Bruce Matthews, also wore 74, who excelled and was a pro bowler at tackle, guard, and center. This is for the coaches to decide. Too many "Madden" players in sports these days.

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ricky's picture

August 05, 2021 at 05:58 pm

Jenkins' agent should be asking for LT money (or at minimum, tackle money) when he negotiates his next contract. And if he can't get it in GB, then he should let the market decide where he'll play next. Heresy? Nope. Simple economics. Why should Jenkins take less to play for the Packers when he could get paid more to play elsewhere? The teams do this all the time, making economic decisions as to when to let a guy go (just ask Jordy Nelson, or CMIII, or a lot of other players in the league). There should be no double standard on this issue. The player should try to get the most he can out of the team; the team should try to sign the player to a contract that is best for the team. Fair is fair.

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dobber's picture

August 06, 2021 at 09:46 am

If Jenkins ends up looking fairly average at LT over extended snaps, it shoots that LT money thing in the foot.

I don't think the Packers will allow Jenkins to get to the point where they're bidding against other teams on him.

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Ferrari-Driver's picture

August 05, 2021 at 06:20 pm

I would guess that the coaches are less concerned about where Elgton Jenkins is playing on the offensive line to keep his next contract price low and more concerned about Playing Elgton in the position that will make the Green Bay Packers the best possible team. If the coaches feel the best place to play Jenkins is right tackle and it makes the Packers a better team, play him there and when a new contract comes due, pay the man accordingly...he will have earned it.

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stockholder's picture

August 06, 2021 at 07:26 am

I'd sign him to the extension RIGHT NOW.

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Matt Gonzales's picture

August 06, 2021 at 07:34 am

That can't happen. Jenkins is entering the third year of his contract, meaning the soonest he can sign an extension is at the conclusion of this league year. He will play out his rookie contract, and then possibly get franchised at whatever position he played the most of in 2022, before he is extended. There's no way cap-wise to make it work any other way.

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dobber's picture

August 06, 2021 at 09:42 am

I think the Packers start talking extension with him as soon as they can. TGR makes the point that they can't get him a lot of cash value on a deal in 2022, but they can get him a bolus of cash through guarantees, which can include roster bonuses that don't figure into the immediate cap, but can (and would) be turned into signing bonus money when space opens up. There's not a lot of give in the Packers' 2022 cap, but allowing him to get close to FA is a mistake.

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Matt Gonzales's picture

August 06, 2021 at 11:49 am

Definitely possible too, but it depends on how quickly Jenkins wants to hit that top market value. If they can do a decent signing bonus and low salaries for the first two years of a 5 year deal, maybe he goes for it if, for example, years 1-4 are guaranteed.

It's gonna be tough, because unless he has a rough showing at LT to start the year, teams are going to see him as a starter wherever they need an impact OL, which is going to give him a huge market, something he and his agent surely both know.

If he starts the year at LT, does well, and the guard that fills his space can also hold his own, it's also possible Turner gets released when Bahk is reactivated. It's not a huge amount of cash but it's going to give a bit more to carry forward and give GB a little flexibility. I doubt they'll see enough in the OLBs where they'd feel comfortable doing the same with Preston this year, but if he has another rough start to the year I think anything is possible.

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dobber's picture

August 06, 2021 at 09:59 pm

"it's also possible Turner gets released when Bahk is reactivated. "

My understanding is that cutting Turner prior to the end of 2021 accelerates an additional $3M onto the 2021 cap.

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Ferrari-Driver's picture

August 07, 2021 at 01:09 pm

mattgsx, it's possible the Packers could release Turner, but it sure appears the Packers are all in for the Super Bowl this year and Turner is a versatile offensive lineman that could be quite valuable should be have an untimely injury at Tackle or Guard during a playoff run.

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LambeauPlain's picture

August 06, 2021 at 12:09 pm

Jenks will go back to LG when Bahk returns, i believe. He needs to be the wingman for the rookie center. I think this is why Kelly was signed..

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