Given the star power present in the Green Bay offense, the tight end corps of the 2015 Green Bay Packers has received relatively little attention. Although NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers’ most potent weapons are certainly his bevy of young, albeit proven talent at the wide receiver position, the tight end position is certainly more of a question mark, especially with the recent off-field issues of veteran Andrew Quarless. Head coach Mike McCarthy has always valued the tight end position on this team, however. In order for the Packers offense to improve on its high marks from last season one or more of these young players below will have to step forward and show themselves to be worthy of targets (at least as a secondary option) and capable in the pass and run blocking game.
Below I will take a look at each of the tight ends currently on the roster and make predictions on their possible contribution to the team this season. Green Bay has kept 4 tight ends on the active roster over the last three seasons, and there is no reason to think that this trend will change. All predictions will assume, of course, that the players will remain healthy.
Richard Rodgers: Taken in the 3rd round by the Packers in the 2014 draft (98 overall), Rodgers is going to be expected to be the man at the position over the next few seasons. Rodgers came on strong in the second half of the season, showing an ability to quickly adjust to the pro game. Rodgers’ athleticism is not about to blow anyone away, but he has gained the trust of QB Aaron by getting open and making big catches at important moments in games. He also seemed to show improvement in the run game, although he is far from a polished blocking tight end.
Rodgers doesn’t have the big play ability of first tier, big name tight ends in the league, but he should grow into a more than capable starter and a great value for a third round pick. Expect Rodgers to carve out a little more room for himself on this offense, improving on his stats for last season. Something in the area of 35 catches for 380 yards and 3 to 4 TDs should be seen as a very reasonable goal.
Andrew Quarless: By now most fans are aware of Quarless’ recent off-field issues. After being arrested in Florida for discharging a firearm in public, Quarless’ future in Green Bay is perhaps in question. Given the lack of veteran leadership at the position, the Packers are likely inclined toward keeping Quarless unless he finds himself missing multiple games this season.
Quarless is a competent player who made one of the more prominent single catches in recent Packers history, hauling in a game winning touchdown in Miami in the closing seconds of the game. While Quarless may not be a part of the Packers’ long term plan, his loss this year would leave a significant hole at the position. If Quarless can stay out of trouble, he will be expected to play behind Rodgers, adding around 20 catches, 200 yards, and a touchdown.
Kennard Backman: The rookie was selected by the Packers in the 2015 draft in the 6th round (213 overall). Backman is slightly smaller than the prototypical NFL tight end, but has shown a mean streak and a toughness in his play that have impressed the coaching staff. Backman has weaknesses as a blocker, and, while he hangs tough while making catches in traffic, he will have a long climb up the depth chart to see any meaningful playing time on the offensive side of the football.
Luckily for Backman, however, making an impact on offense doesn’t seem to be the Packers’ immediate intentions for him. The rookie out of UAB will likely be asked simply to bring his toughness to a special teams unit that is in desperate need of improvement. Backman needs to show himself to be a valuable special teams player in training camp and into the preseason. While General Manager Ted Thompson doesn’t often part ways with his own draft picks, there are young guys on the roster who will be fighting for one of those 4 spots. Backman should be expected to make the roster as TE #3, contributing almost exclusively on special teams.
Justin Perillo: The undrafted, second year player out of Maine has experience as his biggest asset. He is one year more familiar with the NFL and the Green Bay special teams than his rookie counterparts. Perillo spent the first nine games of 2014 on the practice squad, but was then activated for the remainder of the season.
The most likely scenario for Perillo is that his experience earns him the fourth roster spot. What he lacks in long-term investment he makes up for in immediate value to the special teams. While his future beyond 2015 may be questioned, the youth and lack of experience at the position should safeguard his place on the roster for at least another season.
Harold Spears: The undrafted New Hampshire product proved himself to be one of the more capable small school tight ends, bringing in 56 receptions for 838 yards and 4 TDs last season. He spent over a month with the New Orleans Saints, but was released on June 12th, signing with the Packers on the 18th. Spears is far from an athletic freak, but he has shown enough athleticism to play the game at the professional level. While he’s not a large prospect, he’s a relatively strong player.
While the safe pick for the no. 4 spot on the roster might be Justin Perillo, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to imagine the talented Spears usurping his spot, justified by his higher ceiling. If Spears can flash in camp and show some capability on special teams, the Packers just might deem him worthy of the fourth spot. What seems more likely, however, is that the Packers attempt to stash Spears on the practice squad. He probably presents a better long-term prospect than Perillo.
Mitchell Henry: An undrafted rookie out of Western Kentucky, Henry caught the eye of some NFL teams after running a 4.69 in the 40 and getting 37” on his vertical jump. While this gives Henry a slight athletic advantage over Spears, he’ll have to diversify his play and prove that he can make the jump to the professional level. The battle between Spears and Henry will be intriguing as they will likely be duking it out for a single spot on the practice squad. The player who presents the best mix of special teams prowess and long-term receiver potential will win the day. While Henry has a real shot at the practice squad, when all is said and done, I expect the coaching staff to give slightly higher value to Spears, cutting Henry before getting down to the final 53 man roster.
Taylor O\'Neill is a Packer fan born and raised in Oshkosh, WI. He currently lives in Florida and is pursuing his PhD. Taylor is a writer with PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TaylorONeill87 for more Packer news.