Seemingly out of nowhere, Justin McCray appeared to be a valuable asset to the Green Bay Packers offensive line last season. Filling in at multiple positions, here’s why his presence shouldn’t go unappreciated.
Undrafted out of Central Florida in 2014, he spent a brief period with the Tennessee Titans practice squad before being released in 2015. After that, he spent time with the Orlando Predators and Tampa Bay Storm of the Arena Football League.
Before the Packers gave him a call in March of 2017, McCray was working at a hotel as a bellboy in Orlando. He conquered the odds by making the 53-man roster.
He made his first start in Week 2 against the Atlanta Falcons, filling in for injured right tackle Bryan Bulaga. Make no mistake about it, he certainly had his struggles. However, as games came and went, McCray evolved right in front of us.
He spent time at every position except center, doing so in 13 games and eight starts. By showing he possesses the versatility needed in a backup swing tackle, it became clear the former Arena League lineman is a valuable asset.
Eventually, he became more than that, though, by proving his worth at right guard.
The Packers re-signed McCray to a one-year deal on March 12. He figures to have the upper-hand for the starting right guard position.
How McCray affects the rest of the offensive line
Factotum ― an employee who does all kinds of work.
This is what McCray brings to the table. He may not do any one thing exceptionally well, but he’s sure to compete to the whistle on every snap. Not only that, but he can play every position on the offensive line.
McCray adds something to the Packers offense that they haven’t had in a while; a quality offensive lineman who can fill-in anywhere.
Sure, former Packers backup Don Barclay was… okay at what he did. But McCray adds another whole dimension.
I mean, this is a guy who spent significant time at left tackle while David Bakhtiari was out with an injured hamstring. At one point, against the Minnesota Vikings, he was the only player capable of playing left tackle – on an offensive line that included (from left to right) McCray, Lucas Patrick, Corey Linsley, Jahri Evans and Ulrick John.
It has been reported several times in the past week that McCray is ‘a virtual lock‘ to be the starter at right guard next season. He’s taken the majority of snaps with the first-team at organized team activities.
But as McCray well knows, success doesn’t come without hard work, and he’s been working his tail off this offseason. As offensive line coach James Campen put it: “The kid just keeps impressing you. What he’s done this offseason speaks volumes to where he wants to go.”
By becoming the starting right guard, McCray evokes a butterfly effect on the rest of the offensive line.
For instance, the seizing of the right guard spot creates more depth elsewhere. It also ensures stability at a position the Packers have had much success evaluating in the past. Josh Sitton, TJ Lang and Lane Taylor all displayed similar characteristics to McCray.
Green Bay has always sought out exceptional pass protection as a requirement at the two guard positions. Even if the player doesn’t have the refined technique at the moment, the Packers look for the tools they need to mold their skills.
McCray’s presence at right guard also provides competition elsewhere. The starting right tackle position is up for grabs with Bulaga recovering from a torn ACL.
Rookie Cole Madison will look to take advantage of the opportunity. If not, former second-round pick Jason Spriggs may have something to say, permitting he is healthy as well. Kyle Murphy and the newly signed Byron Bell are also options.
By achieving stability at right guard, the Packers have multiple options at right tackle. Add in the fact McCray has experience at multiple positions, and you have a recipe for success.
If the front office elects to keep Bulaga on the roster for 2018, the Packers should have a very formidable offensive line going forward – once Bulaga is healthy, of course.
Although nothing is guaranteed in the NFL, it appears as though McCray will be your starting right guard on Sept. 9 against the Chicago Bears.
If last season is any indication of how McCray may perform in 2018, Green Bay fans have a lot to be excited about.