Packers Need to Get the Tight End Position Right

It's about time the Packers got a hit with the tight end position.

With yesterday's news that the Packers are expected to move on from Jimmy Graham this offseason (a move that was foreseen by Packer fans barely a month into this past season), the Packers will once again find themselves in the market for a number one tight end this offseason.

It's a position the Packers have struggled with filling since the career-ending injury to Jermichael Finley, who himself was a mercurial talent. Some of the whiffs include:

  • Richard Rodgers: An average player thrust into a starting role. Slow as molasses, and hands that would often stand out in practice but didn't always translate to games. Couldn't hold up as a run blocker.
  • Jared Cook: Injured for a good portion of his one year in Green Bay, but developed a good connection wtih Aaron Rodgers in a relatively short period of time. Probably would have been re-signed in Green Bay had his agent not gotten in the way. Has had some solid football with Oakland and New Orleans since.
  • Martellus Bennett: An unmitigated disaster. Was never a good fit for the team culture, played bad football for the half season he was here, and went out with a scorched earth mentality, attempting to drag the name of a respected team physician through the mud in the process.
  • Jimmy Graham: The Packers probably hoped Graham had enough left in the tank to justify the large deal they gave him in 2018. Graham never fully clicked in Seattle; he remained something of a red zone threat, but was never able to find the rhythm he had in New Orleans. His time in Green Bay showed his days of being a legitimate weapon are over. He's slowed down and is unable to stretch defenses as he once did. He failed to show up in the redzone. All that makes him essentially useless, considering he cannot run block worth a damn.

These are just the starters--there have been plenty of other role players that have come and gone, players who weren't expected to be a "solution" to the position but who nevertheless didn't play to a level that justified their remaining with the team for the long term. Guys like Lance Kendricks and Justin Perillo, and you'll probably be able to add Robert Tonyan to that list soon as well.

Of the current crop of tight ends, Marcedes Lewis is still worth keeping, but at his age you know exactly what you're getting out of him--a role player for run-blocking downs that is occasionally capable of surprising the defense as a receiver. Jace Sternberger barely saw the field in his rookie season, so it's hard to know what the Packers have in him yet. Tonyan has had two seasons to show something, and he hasn't put enough on tape to justify much of a commitment. 

Reports have linked the Packers to ascending Falcons tight end Austin Hooper. On paper it would seem to be a good get for the Packers, but there have been plenty of instances where the "on paper" analysis didn't end up matching the production the Packers got out of the tight end.

The good news is that Matt LaFleur seems to be willing to highlight tight ends in his offense, something that couldn't be said of Mike McCarthy's offense in its final years. Here's hoping the Packers are able to find a player who can thrive in the role for once; it's been too long since the Packers have been able to attack the middle of the field with someone other than a slot receiver.

 

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Tim Backes is a lifelong Packer fan and a contributor to CheeseheadTV. Follow him on Twitter @timbackes for his Packer takes, random musings and Untappd beer check-ins.

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Comments (26)

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Guam's picture

March 05, 2020 at 08:14 am

If we had to start the season right now, who would be the Packer's worst projected starter for 2020 - Jace Sternberger (TE), Allan Lazard (WR), Oren Burks (ILB), or Tyler Lancaster (IDL)? I don't think many people would answer Sternberger given the other choices. It would be nice if the Packers could fix TE, but I would rather see them fix WR, ILB and IDL first.

Austin Hooper would be a good get for the Packers, but Littleton/Schobert and one of the good interior DL free agents would provide much greater improvement at the starter positions. Spend the FA money wisely to fix our biggest holes and draft one or more WRs.

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Samson's picture

March 05, 2020 at 04:44 pm

Agree... Have much more faith that Jace S. will be a strong force in season 2020.. Lazard will work as a 3rd or 4th WR. -- Have little confidence in either Burks or Lancaster. Could be wrong... Hope I'm wrong.

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Point-Packer's picture

March 05, 2020 at 08:47 am

I find it absolutely amusing and hilarious that the green and gold glasses crowd thinks Jace Sternberger is capable of the #1 option for GB at TE. He is completely unproven, has done next to nothing in the NFL and was injured for a vast majority of his one and only year in the league. Yes, Burks and Lancaster are both fringe NFL players who are the top end of the GP Packer depth chart right now (scary), but rolling into 2020 with Sternberger as your #1 option at TE is risky business that I hope GB will avoid.

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CAG123's picture

March 05, 2020 at 08:58 am

Yeah man it’s called a projection every fan base does them it’s not just a Green Bay thing. Every player that gets drafted is “unproven” but that doesn’t stop millions of NFL fans from projecting them to succeed.

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Point-Packer's picture

March 05, 2020 at 09:04 am

I understand that, but the current enthusiasm seems to be solely based on the fact he didn't make an absolute ass of himself during his "coffee break of live game action" in 2019.

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CAG123's picture

March 05, 2020 at 10:01 am

I mean he was slightly less productive than Jared Cook from a statistical standpoint and people still fawn over him as if he had this great year with the Packers. Cook only missed a few games with the Pack and looking back at his numbers you would have thought he missed the same amount as Sternberger he had two good games and one of them (against Washington) he fumbled it away but nobody talks about that one. Jace could have had a big game against the Bears in the second meeting had Rodgers thrown him the ball dude got wide open twice and definitely would have scored on one of them.

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Kevin Carpenter's picture

March 05, 2020 at 12:35 pm

What's to make you think he can't? He is one of the best run blocking options on the front end, he's got decent moves and he's got good hands. His lone touchdown reception was a thing of beauty. He came back to Rodgers, in the back of the end zone, making his way away from defensive coverage. That is an excellent start for him. He could be a disaster. However, he's proven he's a player worthy of a shot. Until he proves us wrong, why doubt him?

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Guam's picture

March 05, 2020 at 04:20 pm

Point Packer: I trust you actually read my comment that listed Sternberger as one of the four worst projected starters in 2020 (hardly a ringing endorsement seen through green and gold glasses). The problem is how do you fix the TE position? There is one good free agent (Hooper) and a bunch of questionable retreads (Eric Ebron, etc. etc.) in free agency as well as a draft that is quite thin at TE. I am not sure TE is fixable this year unless the Packers get very lucky in the draft.

I am not excited about Sternberger as TE1, but we have other problems that seem much more fixable given the available free agents at ILB and IDL (particularly IDL). The draft is loaded with WR talent.

My point was rather than reach for the one potential fix at TE, spend our money where the talent is available to fix other holes and live with a TE position that may have to wait until next year to address.

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PatrickGB's picture

March 05, 2020 at 09:38 am

I read that Looney has switched to TE. So, there is that!~

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Lphill's picture

March 05, 2020 at 10:25 am

Sternberger is the future , re sign Lewis 1 more year for blocking and draft a tight end late for special teams. Keeping Vitale I think takes up another spot which would be for a tight end, let’s concentrate on inside linebacker, receiver and D line. Seems like some people here haven’t watched film of Sternberger.

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Point-Packer's picture

March 05, 2020 at 03:21 pm

Montravius Adams is also the future at DT...

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Fredrik87's picture

March 05, 2020 at 03:59 pm

According to pff Montravius Adams was the worst player on the packers roster minimum 100 snaps last year.
He's also been on the team for three years with no sign of improvement.

Sternberger on the other hand was injured resulting in a late start to his season but showed some ability to get open and be good blocker as well.

And TE's rarely do anything until year 2 anyways so his lack of production is not overly concerning.

Furthermore there are really no reasonable options for the packers as far as the TE's in Free Agency and the draft go.
Austin Hooper will get overpaid big time probably over 11 million he's not worth that or even close to it.
He's never been even just good at beating single coverage instead relying on the scheme as well as playing on the same team as Julio to get him open. He's a okay but not great TE that will get paid great TE money.
Eric Ebron will also likely cost more than he is worth and the other option Hunter Henry and Eifert are injury prone.
The draft is barren of TE talent and there less likely to contribute year one then Jace is in year 2 anyways.

So there are some options but they are more TE2 then TE1s leaving Jace as more than likely the best option for the pack at TE.

Unlike at DL, LB, OT and WR other positions of need where there is actually talent to be had in both the draft and free agency

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albert999's picture

March 05, 2020 at 10:26 am

Adam Trautman in the draft is a sleeper that I believe could be a huge grab

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dfarmer's picture

March 05, 2020 at 11:13 am

Had we been able, or willing, to keep Cook; our position now would be much different...

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CAG123's picture

March 05, 2020 at 06:51 pm

Take away his one play against Dallas what exactly did Cook do to warrant such fanfare?

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Tedlyflyfisher's picture

March 05, 2020 at 11:03 pm

It’s hard to blame that on the Pack. Cook’s agent got greedy and demanded way too much money.

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Lare's picture

March 05, 2020 at 11:55 am

I agree with cutting Graham and looking for ways to improve the TE position, I just think there may be other ways to do that other than signing the most expensive free agent TE out there.

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WMA's picture

March 05, 2020 at 12:56 pm

If it is a choice between one of the Bear's LBs and a DL vs. the high price TE I would go with the LB & DL at likely the same cost.

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Bearmeat's picture

March 05, 2020 at 01:26 pm

They could start getting it right by forcing ARod to help Jace grow and not overpaying an over the hill guy. Resign Big Dog for cheap. Draft one on day 3. And roll with Jace, Big Bob, Big Dog and Rook.

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Leatherhead's picture

March 05, 2020 at 03:34 pm

I think Packer fans have some very unrealistic expectations about the TE position.

I've listened to the Packer fan base complain about every TE we've had since Bubba. So I went to www.pro-football-reference.com today and used their search tool. I looked for all the TEs who've caught more than 50 passes in a season since 2000. And this is what I found.

In almost 20 years, TEs have caught 54 or more passes 200 times, so if your TE is catching that many balls, he's one of the more productive TEs in the league.

Furthermore, a lot of these guys aren't active anymore, like Tony Gonzales, Jermichael Finley, Gronkowski, Gates, etc. In fact, last year only six TEs reached that mark: Kelce, Waller, ERtz, Kittle, Hooper, and Higbee. Several of these guys play on offenses that feature the TE and don't really have a top notch WR. The previous year it was Ertz, Kelce, Kittle, Hooper, and Cook.

I have said numerous times that if we have a TE that can get his man blocked (and Bubba was good at that) and catch a couple of passes a game (16 games x 3 receptions each game = 48), then we're fine. That's my expectation. I don't need a TE that catches 80+ balls per season.

Now, there's a lot of buzz about getting Austin Hooper in free agency, and I'm in favor of that. He's young and a proven receiver and he's an adequate blocker who has generally stayed healthy. But then people still want a high draft choice at WR. I guess because we're trying to recreate the McCarthy offense that threw the ball a lot. That's not going to happen. Last year, we ran more and passed less and I think you'll see more of the same this year.

It's not fantasy football. There's only one ball. IF you're going to throw to Adams, and you're going to throw to Hooper, and you're going to throw to Jones/Williams out of the backfield, we don't need somebody to replace Lazard as a starter. We don't.

I'm predicting that if we get Hooper, we won't be taking a WR until Day 3 of the draft.

Meanwhile, when Richard Rodgers catches 58, or Graham catches 55, we complain about how inadequate they are even though we don't feature the TE and we DO have quality WRs.

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CAG123's picture

March 05, 2020 at 05:02 pm

The Packers clearly want to get more efficient on offense the more consistent and capable weapons they have the better the offense will be I don’t know why you think just because they want more weapons means they will throw the ball more. Graham and RR were not consistent or that capable how many falling 3 yard catches did RR have and he sucked at blocking I still remember Kam taking his lunch money in that 2014 NFCCG. Teams like the Seahawks, Ravens, 49ers, Bills all run the ball more than the Packers and they have invested or will be investing in the WR position why can’t the Packers?

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Stroh's picture

March 05, 2020 at 08:54 pm

Even if they sign Hooper, then desperately need a WR, if not 2. Lazard has no business being a starting WR in the NFL. He should be no better than #4 of the depth chart IMO. He's slow, no matter what his timed 40 is. He has trouble seperating, hence Rodgers rarely throwing to him, even tho he trusts Lazard to be in the right place. They need a 2nd and 3rd WR and Hooper to go along w/ Adams and Sternberger. The Packers are Woefully deficient in talent and speed on offense (even Adams is pretty slow by NFL standards).

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CoachDino's picture

March 05, 2020 at 09:00 pm

Excellent assessment. The blueprint LH laid out isn't anti more weapons, its about spending our limited resources the best way. So it makes sense that if you have (2) TE Receivers and (2-3) WR why to spend more capital when you know there isn't going to be the desired return (Value).
Just to be a contrarian I might take a WR due to the talent/Depth this year.
Don't sleep on Lazard and EQS. They are quality receivers and priced so the Packers can spend money elsewhere (ILB/DT/TE).
Question: Do we have a deep threat in that they open the field up for the more talented receivers? Can EQS handle that role? He's fast but not 4.3 fast.
Great point about the team working to be more balanced yet all we talk about is receivers. Yes, we need receivers, it will help the run as well but Losing BB at RT will hurt the run - that is the side the Packers counted on for runs. Verlander is not a good run Blocker, how about picking up a great RT run blocker who is adequate at Pass Pro? Established run game helps in so many areas - Play action, Pass Blocking, QB play, Wearing down opponents defense while keeping our is fresh. I hope we find an RB to replace A Jones in 2021 in the 4th or 5th round. Think John Elway at the end of his career, Terrel Davis was the star and Elway was the straw that stirred the drink...

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stockholder's picture

March 05, 2020 at 07:41 pm

I'm tired of the over -priced TEs. In 1995 Keith Jackson TE , was traded to the packers. Gute could explore a trade first. Or it might just be simpler to sign a bargain. After all didn't Lewis turn out to be a bargain? It's time to break the rules when it comes to TEs. Simple ,bargain, more bang for the buck. Chumaro, Finley, etc. If Gute puts his mind to "find" a TE, he will. Without the cap concerns.

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AgrippaLII's picture

March 05, 2020 at 07:47 pm

I'm hoping Gutekunst shies away from signing another big dollar free agent Tight End. He brought in some quality defensive free agents last year. That's where the opportunities to improve the team are this year. I think he's aware of it!

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billy96's picture

March 08, 2020 at 04:25 am

Here's hoping the Packers are able to find a player who can thrive in the role for once; it's been too long since the Packers have been able to attack the middle of the field with someone other than a slot receiver.
https://tabbysspotlesslyclean.com/

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