The Green Bay Packers have addressed a number of needs this offseason, but heading into the 2019 season, tight end still remains a position in question.
The tight end position for the Green Bay Packers has been a mystery in recent years. It hasn’t been since the days of Jermichael Finley that they’ve had a reliable playmaker at the position. They haven’t spent an early round pick on the position in years and they’ve struck out in free agency.
Free agent Jared Cook found some success in Green Bay once he returned from injury and played a key role in the Packers’ “Run the Table” stretch that season, but they were unable to bring him back the following season. Then came Martellus Bennett, which to put simply, ended horribly.
Many suspected that they would spend a top draft pick on one of the two standout tight end options in this year’s draft, however, T.J. Hockenson was off the board and Noah Fant at 12th overall was a bit too rich.
The current tight ends on the roster are either past their primes in the NFL or lack experience. And for a position that plays an important role in new head coach Matt LaFleur’s offense, questions still remain as we turn our focus to the 2019 season.
Jimmy Graham was one of the Green Bay Packers recent free agent signings at tight end and he was expected to be a red zone threat for this team. However, as we all know, things did not work out that way, but I will say that his season wasn’t as bad as some make it out to be.
Graham fought through a thumb injury and hauled in 55 receptions for 636 yards but only had two touchdown receptions. He clearly wasn’t the same athletically as he was in year’s past and he wasn’t that impact player in the red zone that many had anticipated him being.
Moving on to Marcedes Lewis who was brought in last offseason and is known more for his blocking ability than being a pass catcher. Although he was grossly underutilized in 2018 under former head coach Mike McCarthy, when given opportunities, he didn’t display that same blocking ability that we have become accustomed to over the years. We will see if it was Father Time that had caught up with Lewis or if it was just a down year in which he was misused.
Then we have fan favorite, Robert Tonyan who has shown flashes of the player that he can be and he did work out with San Francisco 49ers star tight end George Kittle this offseason. With that said, his skill set is still a bit raw and he needs more development. As a former college receiver, he struggles as a blocker but has the potential to become a weapon in the passing game with proper coaching.
Lastly, we have this year’s third-round draft pick, Jace Sternberger. Early on we could see Sternberger make an impact in the passing game and he could become a favorite red zone target of Aaron Rodgers. During his final season at Texas A&M, Sternberger would haul in ten touchdown receptions.
On the flip side, Sternberger didn’t get many reps in college as a blocker and the transition from college ball to the NFL at the tight end position is a big jump that takes most players sometime before they are firing on all cylinders.
It’s clear with the offseason moves, or lack there of, that GM Brian Gutekunst has put his faith in LaFleur and his offense when it comes to the tight end position. LaFleur is known for scheming players open, rather than them having to win one-on-one matchups consistently and they will be featured in the offense more frequently.
Last year in Tennessee, we saw Luke Stocker and Jonnu Smith average 11.0 and 12.9 yards per catch respectively in LaFleur’s system. Both of which were career highs by multiple yards. Due to the Delanie Walker injury, LaFleur had to get creative and he was able to find some success with some players that are not nearly as good as Walker is at this point.
I for one am anticipating that we will see a jump in production from the tight end unit as a whole under LaFleur, however, given the current construction of the tight end position, there are reasons to be apprehensive. Hopefully, for the sake of Rodgers and this Green Bay Packers offense, LaFleur is able to resurrect what has been an unproductive position in recent years with the players that he has available.