The search for a dependable, dynamic Packers tight end has been long and arduous. Not since Bubba Franks (and I’m not even sure he counts) have the Packers been able to count on one single consistently productive tight end. There was inconsistency and flashes of brilliance with Jermichael Finley, no question about that. Players like Donald Lee, Andrew Quarless, and most recently Richard Rodgers have provided spotty production as well, but at no point during the late Favre and Aaron Rodgers era have the Green Bay Packers had a consistent dynamic threat at the tight end position.
One could argue that it’s by design. No Thompson-era Packers team that’s made a deep run in the playoffs (2007, 2010, 2014) has had such a presence at tight end, but more a group of players capable of doing their jobs. Ted Thompson hasn’t really invested all that highly in the position, either. Jermichael Finley was a high upside 3rd round pick, but after him there have been only mid-to-late round investements (Andrew Quarless, DJ Williams, Ryan Taylor) all in the fifth round or later. Richard Rodgers was the exact opposite of Finley. Rodgers was a 3rd round selction with a high floor and a low ceiling who was able to contribute right away in 2014, but doesn’t project to ever be dynamic.
Ted Thompson’s draft history begs the question, does he care? Does he feel the need to give Aaron Rodgers a tight end in the way that the Patriots gave Gronk to Brady and the Saints gave Graham to Brees? Would a monster tight end truly make the Packers offense unstoppable or is it actually just a luxury?
Class Strength: 4.5/10
This class is an odd one for me. On the one hand there’s really only 2 players in this class that I think can be more than “just a guy”. The top player in the class, Maxx Williams, is a player that I have a higher opinion of than the top tight end in any of the last 3 drafts. Higher than Fleener, higher than Eifert, higher than Ebron. Call him “Diet Gronk”, “Baby Gronk”, “Caffeine Free Gronk”, I don’t care. That’s how I view him. From what I can tell even if Maxx doesn’t reach Gronktastic heights he has the career of Greg Olsen coming to him, and that is pretty good.
If Maxx Williams is “Diet Gronk”, then the player that I ranked behind him is “Diet Dallas Clark”. Nick O’Leary of Florida State reminds me a lot of Dallas Clark. From their frames, to their skillsets, to their insistence on wearing a fullback’s number and refusal to put on receiver’s gloves. I think O’Leary could be used as an H-back, in line or even in the slot, a lot like Clark was in Indy. Again, he might not be Dallas Clark, in fact that’s pretty darn unlikely but if he has Charles Clay’s career I think I’d be pretty OK with that.
Beyond Williams and O’Leary it’s hard for me to get excited. Clive Walford might be the next big thing out of the University of Miami but he’s pretty raw. If another tight end from this class jumps out at me eventually, I bet it’s Walford. Tyler Kroft from Rutgers is 6’6″, but wasn’t very productive in his final collegiate season and probably should have returned for one more. I can’t stand Notre Dame tight ends, so no thanks on Ben Koyack. I’m not sure how many consecutive Notre Dame tight ends have been over drafted, but it’s a lot. Jesse James from Penn State is another huge guy that wasn’t very productive and would have been well served returning.
Packers Positional Situation: C+
Nothing to complain about, nothing to get excited about here. As I’ve mentioned, the team drafted Richard Rodgers in the 3rd round of the draft last offseason. He was able to contribute right away and showed exceptional hands. He does however have athletic limitations that will never allow him to become a superstar. Does that mean he was a bad pick or can’t be productive? Absolutely not.
The Packers still employ Andrew Quarless as well. “Q” had a big drop in the NFC Championship game, but continues to provide spotty production here and there when called upon. He’s also a capable run blocker, certainly more so than Rodgers. The main issue with Quarless is that his contract is up after the 2015 season. His age (28) doesn’t figure to be an issue in re-signing him but if the Packers have any plan to move on they will likely need to sign or draft his replacement this offseason.
After the release of Brandon Bostick, the only tight end left on the roster is Justin Perillo. at 6’3″ and 250 lbs out of FCS Maine, there’s nothing really to write home about Perillo. He’s “just a guy”.
Packers Level of Need at TE: 7/10
The team is going to need to add another tight end, if even just for the sake of training camp bodies. Richard Rodgers is fine, but he has limitations, specifically as a run blocker. Andrew Quarless is also fine, but he’s not always healthy and is playing on an expiring contract. Perillo, again, is fine as a 3rd tight end but doesn’t have the long term upside that I’d prefer in a Packers young 3rd stringer.
Beyond just needing more numbers I think the team needs a little bit more out of the position. I’m honestly hoping that the team comes away with Williams or O’Leary or chooses to sign Jordan Cameron or Julius Thomas (preferably Cameron) in free agency. As far as I’m concerned Richard Rodgers projects as a passable starter, but an ideal long term answer at #2 tight end. The obvious key to making Rodgers a #2 tight end is acquiring someone who either immediately or eventually overtakes him.
I’m not opposed to the Packers acquiring one of the other tight ends, especially one of the huge ones. I just hope it happens very late in the draft. If they get through free agency and don’t acquire a starter, and then get through the first 4 rounds and don’t draft Williams or O’Leary then I don’t want a lot invested in the position this offseason.
Round to Start Targeting TE: Round 1
Maxx. That’s all that needs to be said. Honestly, if I had to pick a draft “strategy”, right now it would be called “Maxx or trade down”. I’m not in love with any of the end-of-the-1st-round talent except for Maxx Williams. He’d be able to ease in as a contributor in 2015 behind Rodgers and Quarless and then be ready to explode onto the scene in 2016 when given the reigns.
If the team doesn’t draft Williams I hope they wait until round 3 or 4 (probably wishful thinking) to draft O’Leary. Waiting until it’s time to take O’Leary allows the club to address other needs in the top 75 selections.
My Favorite Fit for the Packers: Maxx Williams, Minnesota- Rounds 1-2
The reason I’m so gung-ho on Maxx Williams is the same reason I’m so gung-ho on signing Jordan Cameron. Great size, impressive athleticism, good after the catch and both players have survived awful QB situations. Cameron made his reputation in the mess that is the Cleveland QB situation, and is looking for a way out. Williams played with bad quarterbacks his entire career at Minnesota, and played in an offense that makes the 2014 Cowboys and their 508 rushing attempts look like Don Coryell’s Chargers.
If I’m right, both of these guys could produce immensely given the upgrade at quarterback that league MVP Aaron Rodgers would provide. Williams would initially feast off of the single coverage that playing alongside Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb would provide. His ability as a run blocker would not only keep him in the game on all 3 downs, but allow the Packers offense not to “tell” as much about what kind of play they are running.
After feasting off of single coverage from linebackers long enough, defenses would have to account for him, freeing up Nelson, Cobb and Davante Adams to be more destructive than they already project to be. Considering that what they already have been is the #1 scoring offense in the league, the prospective addition of Maxx Williams is pretty terrifying.
Other options: Nick O’Leary, Clive Walford (kinda)