Free Agent Profile: Bryan Bulaga
The 2014 season had an impressive group of free agents at the offensive tackle position, with Branden Albert, Eugene Monroe and Jared Veldheer all available. The 2015 free agent tackle class is going to be a significant step down for teams in need of tackle help, and with King Dunlap re-signing with the Chargers and Michael Roos retiring, the options became even more limited. The Cowboys’ Doug Free and Jeremy Parnell as well as former Texan Derek Newton should draw some interest, but, by far, the most intriguing option is the Packers’ Bryan Bulaga.
Bulaga was a first round pick for Green Bay back in 2010 out of the University of Iowa. His career got off to a rocky start and he finished his rookie season with a -17.5 overall grade. He allowed a league high 12 sacks and his 93.3 Pass Blocking Efficiency rating ranked 42nd out of all tackles. Despite having a rough rookie season he did show flashes of his potential having a few strong games during the season and during the Packers’ Super Bowl run, grading at +6.3 combined for the Divisional playoff and Conference championship games.
2011 was Bulaga’s best all-around season as a pro. He finished with a +18.9 overall grade for the regular season, a mark that ranked seventh overall. He was one of six tackles to grade at +7.0 or better in both run and pass blocking. His 21 total pressures allowed was tied for the third-lowest mark out of all tackles and his one sack allowed ranked second behind only Duane Brown who didn’t allow a sack all year. Bulaga’s 96.1 Pass Blocking Efficiency rating came in at eighth overall. With the way he ended his rookie campaign and the production in his sophomore season he looked like an All-Pro in the making.
Unfortunately, Bulaga wasn’t able to carry any momentum from 2011 into the 2012 season. He had a rough start grading at -9.6 over the first five weeks of that season. While he was able to turn his season around grading at +5.3 over the next four games, he suffered a season-ending hip injury in Week 9, ending any momentum he had built up. The Packers had big plans for Bulaga prior to the 2013 season, with plans to start him at left tackle, but his bad luck continued as he suffered a torn ACL just before the preseason.
This past season was easily the most important for Bulaga’s career. Coming off of consecutive season-ending injuries, he needed to prove that he could stay on the field and perform up to his peak 2011 level. To tell the story of his season you need to break it into two halves. Over the first half Bulaga graded at -0.7 overall, but after the bye in Week 9 he found his groove and turned into the Pro Bowl level talent he was prior to his injuries. The graphic below shows his dramatic uptick in performance after the Packers’ bye week.
From Weeks 10-17 his +12.6 grade ranked ninth out of all tackles and topped all right tackles. His 97.1 Pass Blocking Efficiency rating over that time ranked sixth overall. This second-half run was exactly the finish he needed to propel him towards free agency.
Bryan Bulaga struggled as a rookie and then turned into a Pro-Bowl level tackle in 2011. He then suffered two lost seasons via injury before finally hitting his groove again the second half of last season.
If Bulaga can continue to stay healthy he has the ability to be a Top 10-15 tackle, and perhaps even more. He is also one of the few who plays well both in the run game and in pass protection. Green Bay will make a strong push to retain his services, but if he does hit the open market interest will be strong, especially with the lack of other options at tackle. It will be interesting to see what salary range he will command with the combination of his tough injury history and potential, being just 25 years of age.