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Green Bay Packers

NFL 25 at 25 | No 14 Packers OT David Bakhtiari

Green Bay Packers tackle David Bakhtiari (69) sets to block San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aaron Lynch (59) during an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. (Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini)
Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini

I’ll admit I knew very little about David Bakhtiari coming into the 2016 season. I knew he moved extremely well for a big man, I knew his flowing mane was majestic, and I knew he had been improving steadily since being drafted as a fourth-round “developmental” tackle by Green Bay. However, ask anyone about Bakhtiari. It wouldn’t take them long to mention his one bugaboo, the thing he has struggled with the most since college and even early in the NFL.

The bull rush.

Bakhtiari has always been a tremendous athlete for the position, with quick feet and smooth movements to all levels of the field. As a pre-draft prospect, those lithe movements were often credited to his lighter frame. He checked into the combine with just 299 pounds on his 6-4 frame. He made up for some of his lack of strength with technique and nastiness, but bull rushers always gave him problems, from his opponents at Colorado to the ones he faced in the NFL when starting all 16 games as a rookie.

Bakhtiari bulked up quickly, adding 10-15 pounds to his frame and noticeably filling out his upper body with more muscle. He’s admitted that keeping enough weight on his frame is a job in and of itself, but the added strength has been a major asset to Bakhtiari in his development against power edge rushers.

Bakhtiari is explosive out of his stance to eliminate Olivier Vernon’s two-way go, but then is forced to stymie the edge defender’s bull rush when Vernon tries to run through him to the quarterback. Bakhtiari anchors, then repositions his hands when Vernon steps inside to shut down the path to Aaron Rodgers. You’re not going to see him stone many bull rushers, but he’ll give some ground and then fend them off by repositioning his hands and dropping his hips.

If you’re asking what makes Bakhtiari elite, it is his footwork and mental processing in pass protection. Bakhtiari is one of the most explosive offensive linemen in the NFL in his drive-catch phase, bursting out of his stance with balance and poise to establish a half-man relationship with edge rushers. This allows him to be able to step down against inside counter moves or carry speed rushes up the arc with equal capability.

Look how quickly Bakhtiari goes from his stance, to kicking into his set, to sliding back inside to pick up the game the New York Giants are running. That footspeed and balance are just remarkable, a big part of what makes Bakhtiari such a special player. He’s an easy mover with terrific suddenness and energy, which is exactly what it takes to protect Aaron Rodgers.

Check out the physicality and mental processing shown in the video above.

As Vernon maneuvers inside, Bakhtiari washes him down and tosses him to the turf, while maintaining his own balance in the process. This allows the left tackle to smoothly pick up the 2 technique as he comes twisting outside, anchoring against the power rush before executing the snatch-and-trap move to whip the defensive lineman to the ground. He puts two defenders down while quickly processing the twist the defense is throwing at him. Impressive stuff.

Bakhtiari is known for his ability in pass protection, but he’s a solid run blocker as well, even though the ground game is an afterthought in Green Bay. Once thought to be too small and weak to be an NFL starter, especially at tackle, Bakhtiari has taken his game to new heights and become one of the top five offensive tackles in the game. The stat below illustrates just how rare this type of development is for a Day 3 prospect at tackle.

You can credit Bakhtiari’s heralded work ethic and competitive toughness as big reasons why he has succeeded in the NFL. He has taken the time to cultivate his terrific skill set into the tools of a masterful technician and exceptionally cerebral offensive lineman. He’ll be 25 years old at the end of September, so this is the last time you’ll see him on this list, but with the Pro Bowler’s prime years still ahead of him, don’t expect to see a drop-off in play anytime soon.

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