Green Bay Packers 2021 NFL Draft Position Preview: Is TE an Option?

Nov 29, 2020; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Green Bay Packers tight end Robert Tonyan (85) catches a pass against Chicago Bears safety Eddie Jackson (39) for a touchdown in the third quarter at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 29, 2020; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Green Bay Packers tight end Robert Tonyan (85) catches a pass against Chicago Bears safety Eddie Jackson (39) for a touchdown in the third quarter at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports /

For the first time in what feels like forever, there isn’t really too much concern around the tight end position with the Green Bay Packers. Since the days of Jermichael Finley, this position has been a Rubik’s cube to solve — although not for a lack of effort — but looking ahead to the 2021 season, there is a lot to like about this room.

Robert Tonyan is coming off a highly productive and highly efficient 2020 season where he caught 88 percent of his targets, including 11 touchdowns. Josiah Deguara was injured early on, but in his brief action, we saw all that he could do in this Matt LaFleur offense in the all-important H-back role. Marcedes Lewis is back once again as the team’s traditional Y-tight end, and we hopefully see Jace Sternberger take a step forward while Dominique Dafney is insurance for Deguara.

So with so many other needs that the Green Bay Packers have to address in the upcoming NFL Draft, tight end is far from a top priority. But could the Packers still spend a pick on the position? While it may seem unnecessary, I do believe it’s an option.

First, I’ll preface this by saying I don’t expect them to spend an early-round pick on the position, and if they go all seven rounds without taking a tight end, that’s fine as well. But as good as the tight end room looks in 2021, it could look much different in 2022.

Tonyan becomes an unrestricted free agent next offseason, and the Green Bay Packers are going to be in a salary-cap crunch once again, which is going to lead to difficult decisions. It’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility that he ends up elsewhere. Marcedes Lewis is nearing 37-years-old and could retire, and while Dafney impressed, that was a small sample size, and he remains a relative unknown. When it comes to Sternberger, what if he doesn’t take that step forward?

At this point, Deguara is the only player that we can count on playing a major role on this Packers team beyond 2021. Everyone else’s status is really up in the air and won’t be determined until we see how this season plays out.

Admittedly, the odds that all four of those scenarios play out and the Green Bay Packers are left with just Deguara and an unproven Sternberger next offseason probably isn’t likely. But individually, each scenario mentioned is absolutely a possibility. And as we’ve seen from Brian Gutekunst in his past drafts, he will — as he should — plan ahead for the coming years.

All tight ends in the LaFleur system are expected to block, but they are asked to do so to varying degrees. Tonyan and Sternberger fit a similar mold as threats in the passing game, while Deguara and Dafney are more H-backs. But there is only one Marcedes Lewis, and if the Green Bay Packers are going to target the position, finding someone of that ilk makes a lot of sense.

While Lewis’ impact often doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, LaFleur has often gushed over his ability as a blocker along with what he brings to this team as a leader. Lewis is oftentimes like a sixth offensive lineman on the field, and when the day comes that he does retire, that is going to leave a big hole in this offense. While the more traditional Y-tight end role can go unnoticed, it’s crucial to LaFleur’s system, and right now, Green Bay doesn’t have a backup plan.

One Day 3 prospect that I really like for this role is John Bates from Boise State. In 2020, he was the fourth-best run-blocking tight end over at PFF ($$) and the eighth-best pass blocker. Bates would finish his college career with 47 receptions at 12.3 yards per catch and with two touchdowns.

Not to mention that adding a potentially dynamic pass catcher is always going to be in play.

Two other players on the roster currently are Isaac Nauta, who does fit that Y-tight end mold, and Bronson Kaufusi, a former defensive end. At this time, both players  are wildcards and expectations should be minimal.

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With all of that said, my guess is that Green Bay doesn’t take a tight end in this year’s draft. Even with planning ahead, given who is already on the roster, there just isn’t enough room for everyone. However, once teams get to those later rounds where it is more about upside than immediate positional need, tight end could be an option depending on how the board falls because as good as the position looks right now, it could look quite different a year from now.