Zach Tom is outplaying his draft slot.
The rookie offensive lineman, selected in the fourth round (No. 140 overall) out of Wake Forest, has pleasantly surprised in the trenches for the Green Bay Packers OL through appearances in five games.
Tom got his first taste of the NFL in Week 1 when he spelled Jon Runyan Jr., who departed with a concussion, at left guard. Tom played 30 offensive snaps and fared fine against a fierce Vikings pass rush.
Six games later, Tom made his first professional start, filling in at left tackle for All-Pro David Bakhtiari.
The next week, Tom was tabbed a starter again – this time in relief of Pro Bowl left guard Elgton Jenkins.
In the following game, during the Week 9 loss at Detroit, Tom trotted off the bench and supplanted Bakhtiari on the left flank, taking 61% of Green Bay’s offensive snaps. In that game, Tom posted an 83.3 pass-blocking grade per Pro Football Focus, his best to date. Then Tom didn’t play for three weeks.
Which brings us to the Packers’ triumph Sunday, a 28-19 win at Soldier Field over Da Bears.
It marked Tom’s third career start, his second manning the LT spot and first in emergency fashion.
About the latter: Tom wasn’t supposed to start against Chicago – which probably can be said about every game he’s played in this season; he’s been Mr. Do Whatever In A Pinch – but Bakhtiari had a setback.
On Friday, the 31-year-old tackle felt something wrong in his abdomen. A strain possibly, so he told the Packers’ team doctor. Unexpectedly, Bakhtiari needed to go under the knife to remove his appendix.
That put Tom on the spot. Something he’s gotten familiar with in Year 1.
Color us not the least bit shocked then when he played all 66 offensive snaps, on 48 hours notice, in a must-win game against a division rival … and didn’t let a single Bears defender touch Aaron Rodgers.
Tom earned respectable grades from PFF for his Week 13 performance. He was rated the ninth-best player on the Packers offense – out of 18 that saw work in the Windy City – and helped Green Bay rush for 175 yards on 32 run plays (5.5 avg.), its highest total on the ground since gashing Dallas for 207 yards.
We seriously doubt there were 139 prospects better than Tom in the 2022 NFL draft.
Other notes from Sunday’s snap counts:
– Running back AJ Dillon was the focal point of Green Bay’s offense, rushing 18 times for a season-high 93 yards and catching three passes for 26. Dillon also rumbled in for six from 21 yards out at the beginning of the fourth quarter Sunday, drawing the Packers within two points of the Bears after the PAT. He did all this on 45 offensive snaps – Dillon was handed a season-best 68% snapshare – which was 20 more than usual lead back Aaron Jones, who was in and out after aggravating a shin injury. Jones’ production dipped – he totaled 50 yards on 14 touches (3.6 avg.) – but he made history, becoming the fourth Packers player all-time to eclipse 5,000 career rushing yards. Jones has 5,010 entering Week 14.
– Christian Watson is a freak. The rookie wide receiver again logged more than 90% of the Packers’ offensive snaps, on the field for 61 of 66 plays, and again scored multiple touchdowns – his third such game this season. Watson was quiet in the first half Sunday until catching a 14-yard dart in the south end zone at Soldier Field, 23 seconds before heading to the locker room. He had two more catches vs. the Bears, with a long reception of 19 yards. Chicago probably thought it did a good job of bottling up the speed threat … until Watson took a handoff from Rodgers and sprinted around the left end for a game-sealing, 46-yard TD. Watson has now reached the end zone – eight times – four games in a row.
– Appearing for the first time since departing the game at Buffalo in Week 8 with a knee injury, 2021 All-Pro linebacker De’Vondre Campbell picked up where he left off, leading the Packers with 11 tackles against Chicago while playing every single defensive snap. Campbell, however, had an off day. His 53.5 overall grade from Pro Football Focus ranked 14th out of 17 Packers defenders who took reps Sunday. Campbell was picked apart by Bears QB Justin Fields in the passing game, allowing seven receptions on eight targets for 62 yards and 27 YAC. Campbell also was slow to diagnose Fields’ 55-yard touchdown run – resulting in Fields hitting a fifth gear and running like a gust of wind past Campbell in the open field.
– Starting at safety for the fourth game in a row, Rudy Ford played all 52 D snaps at Chicago and finished with two tackles and a fumble recovery – a statistical letdown after racking up nine stops in Week 12 against the Eagles. Ford’s increased role comes at the expense of safety Darnell Savage, the 21st overall selection in the 2019 NFL draft. Savage was unavailable for Week 13 due to a foot injury, but if you recall was shuffled to the slot for his lone snap vs. Philadelphia – his prospects of leapfrogging Ford in the safety rotation whenever he returns are slim. Ford has three takeaways and 18 tackles in four starts.
– The main focus of our snap counts article last week, rush linebacker Justin Hollins played about the same percentage of defensive snaps Sunday as he did in his Packers debut vs. the NFC-leading Eagles. Against Chicago, Hollins saw 14 snaps (27%) and assisted on a tackle. He didn’t record a pressure, which isn’t all that surprising – three players got a lick on Fields (Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry and Jarran Reed).