Tight Ends (7)
Wow! Give a new general manager an inch on refining a team that was lacking more than a couple pieces and he takes it a mile. By that mile, I mean by signing two veterans that rehauled the entire tight end position and gave Rodgers more weapons to use. Packers fans have called for a legitimate threat since Jermichael Finley and Ted Thompson has struck out more times than the fans could count. The tight end position has the talent and depth for the first time in more than half a decade. This season is a big one for the tight end unit and also could make the 2018 season special one.
The acquisition of Jimmy Graham runs near the top of the list of top free agent signings in the league. Not just because of skill and talent at the tight end position, but what his production can be with Aaron Rodgers slinging him the ball. Packers plan on using Graham in a split out wide position most of the time and will play him like a bigger wide receiver. Expect to see Graham in more than just a red-zone offense plan for the Packers in 2018.
- Mismatch nightmare one on one against safeties, corners and linebackers trying to cover him
- A red-zone and 3rd down threat for Rodgers
- He only missed 7 games in his 8 years of playing and adds that solid reliability at the position
- Really isn’t a solid blocker
- Has a problem with dropping a couple passes here and there which are drive killers
- Athleticism has dropped a bit after a major knee injury three years ago
Scale (1-10 with 1 being no chance to make the roster and 10 being a complete lock)-10
Graham will be number 1 on the depth chart of skill, experience, and talent with the ability to play in multiple spots. He has more of a wide receiver build and could play opposite of Davante Adams. Packers fans should expect to see the Graham of old with how the offense uses him.
Packers picked up the very useful Marcedes Lewis from free agency and will show that he still has a lot to offer. The offense now has the plus side of using Lewis as a stud run blocker for the one play then next play he’s running out for a pass to convert the first down. I expect Lewis to be used as another safety blanket for Rodgers in the offense when plays break down.
- Top rated #1 run-blocking tight end that will help Packers rushing attack go to the next level
- Locates the ball well in the routes and has exceptional catching even for a bigger tight end
- 18 of his 24 catches last year went for first downs showing his awareness for the chains
- Age is against him which may slow down his speed in running routes and not gain separation
- May need more time adjusting to a passing offense with Packers from being in a rushing offense last year
- Known to disappear in 2 to 4 game stretches which can affect an offensive rhythm.
Lewis was rated the #1 run-blocking tight end in 2017 and is a secret weapon in the passing game as well. Those two reasons are why Brian Gutekunst brought in the experienced veteran. It gives a very good chance to have a balanced offense and keep the pressure off Rodgers. There’s no way Lewis doesn’t make the 53 man roster.
Lance Kendricks is a bit of a forgotten man in the past week when it comes to the tight end position. However, fans should not expect much from Kendricks being a rotational tight end when Graham and Lewis are needing a break off the field.
- Knows the offensive system and may be more productive than originally thought
- Is a better receiving target in space than in shorter drives
- Gets off the line with quick releases into his routes
- Drops with unreliable hands that does follow him throughout his career
- Doesn’t seem to put up the numbers for what he’s getting paid
- Has trouble shaking off defenders and gets tackled very easily
Kendricks is surely a lock for the money the Packers are paying him and has experience in the offensive system being in his second year in Green Bay. He will be a rotational tight end for depth and a solid special teams player. Kendricks will most likely make the 53 man roster.
The teacher turned professional football player, Emanuel Byrd, got his chance in week 17 of last season. He spent most of the time on the practice squad since training camp until getting called up in the last week against the Lions. There was enough that impressed the Packers in week 17 to keep him on the roster and bring him through the offseason at a chance at a roster spot.
- Knows how to locate the football well while routes are developing
- Not afraid to go across the middle of the field and hangs on to passes while getting hit
- Can split the seam well and has deceiving speed that defenders have trouble with
- A bit undersized for the tight end position which could affect his blocking
- Doesn’t really want to do blocking but will do it if asked
- Might be a project more than thought with him still developing his play
7 – Byrd really impressed coaches with his ability in the week 2017 Detroit Lions game and that ended up having him on the 53 man roster through the offseason. It’s on the Packers whether they keep 3 or 4 tight ends on the final roster and that has a good chance at determining Byrd’s roster chances. Even if he doesn’t make the final roster, he knows the system and should be on the practice squad at least.
*No stats available.
Packers signed Robert Tonyan to a future deal at the end of the 2017 season. Tonyan is a one-year NFL veteran and has incredible upside. He transitioned from wide receiver to tight end and has the potential to pay dividends if he can be developed and coached right. Tonyan has a big chance to be a practice squad member.
- Has really good upside after switching from wide receiver to tight end
- Having the reliable hands and catch radius that came from being a wide receiver
- Uses his bigger frame to box out defenders on high point or 50/50 catches.
- Only has one speed can never seem to get to the next gear in routes
- Route running needs to improve to be able to gain separation from defenders
- Needs to bulk up more if he really wants to be a fully converted tight end
Tonyan has the upside and talent to surprise the Packers coaches with training camp in letting him get a spot on the 53 man roster or be a mainstay on the practice squad in case of injury. He most likely will be a practice squad member in case of injury and that what fans should expect.
*No stats available
Kevin Rader was a small school signing as an undrafted rookie out of Youngstown State. He wasn’t very productive while there but has the talent and upside to be developed right. Packers usually have pretty decent luck at finding a couple undrafted rookie tight ends, but it looks like Rader will probably be a member of the practice squad or with another team.
- An exceptional run blocker that squares up the defender and controls the lane
- He has a quick release off the line and gets to top speed quickly
- Has a big catch radius by extending his arms and is able to catch away from his body
- Was never a big part of his college offense showing he disappears the game a lot
- Has very incomplete balance hurting his catching ability and trying to stay inbounds with catches
- Was not producing as much for what his size and speed are showing.
There’s nothing that really stands out about Kevin Rader except the upside. The Packers have three experienced veterans that have made the tight end unit one of the best on the team. The upside isn’t going to really get Rader on the 53 man roster. So expect him to be a practice squad member at most.
A two-year starter out of Miami (OH) who was a pretty effective weapon while playing there. Smith averaged 13 yards per reception which is quite good for only getting 35 catches. Smith was signed as an undrafted rookie and enters a pretty crowded tight end unit.
- Is known for using his big body for blocking well in the rushing offense
- Can release off the line well and adjust well to any throw coming to him
- He’s able to use his exceptional balance and take hits in stride and stay on his feet
- Only has one speed and can’t seem to ever get to the next gear while in stride
- Used heavily in short range targets like red zone or 3rd down and short conversions
- Can’t seem to split the seam and get more effective receptions
Smith looks like a great under the radar practice squad candidate that Packers can keep in case of any injuries down the road. There’s so much depth at the tight end position for the 2018 season that there’s no room to keep good prospects like Smith. If Packers don’t keep him on the practice squad, another needy tight end team will pick him up for depth or run blocking specifically.
*Written by David Steger