Under Head Coach Mike McCarthy, the Green Bay Packers have tended to keep four tight ends on their final 53 man roster. That has been the case in four out of the last five years. In 2015, the Packers kept just three, and it seems likely that the team will keep only three again in 2016 given the crowded depth at the wide receiver position and the relatively shallow depth at tight end.
Still, that leaves a third tight end spot up-for-grabs behind free agent acquisition Jared Cook and third year player Richard Rodgers. If the team can remain healthy at the position, the third-tier tight end will be more of a special teams contributor than someone who sees significant snaps on offense. However, with Jared Cook suddenly being out the rest of OTAs after undergoing foot surgery, it’s a reminder that the team is one injury away from going with the next man up.
So who will that be? The Packers have options. Justin Perillo has been with the team since 2014 when he signed to the practice squad as a rookie free agent. He has seen some playing time in both of the past two seasons, but has mostly been a special teams contributor. Coming into this third season in the NFL, it’s time for Perillo to show that he’s truly an NFL talent. He was able to make some plays last year, making 11 catches for 102 yards and 1 TD during the regular season. Simply put, Perillo has the most experience and has shown that he can, at the very least, look competent on the offensive side of the ball.
Kennard Backman was a 6th round pick for the Packers in 2015. He was active in seven games last year but did not see many snaps on offense. He did not register a single catch as a rookie, although he did haul in 5 catches for 59 yards and 1 TD in the 2015 preseason. Backman impressed the coaching staff with his athleticism and tenacity in 2015. Plus, we all know how committed General Manager Ted Thompson is to his own draft picks.
Mitchell Henry, a second year undrafted player out of Western Kentucky, spent the 2015 offseason with the Packers but was waived at roster cut down. The Packers had hoped to sign Henry back to the practice squad, but he was scooped up by the Denver Broncos until he was cut from Denver in October and landed back with the Packers. The Packers are clearly interested in Henry as they signed him to a reserve/futures contract in January.
Finally, Casey Pierce out of Kent St. spent his rookie year in 2015 as an undrafted addition to the Detroit Lions’ practice squad. Pierce has good hands, but is certainly more of a blocking tight end.
Ultimately, it would seem that Backman or Perillo have the best chance of surviving cut downs, with Henry perhaps having an outside chance to edge both out. The Packers will have to decide whether they want to keep someone who can contribute now on special teams or someone who has the ability to provide as a pass catcher in the future. Jared Cook was signed to just a one year deal meaning that next offseason the Packers will once again be looking for a seam-stretching tight end to complement Rodgers as a red zone target. It wouldn’t appear that the Packers have a young tight end that can blossom into a starter on the roster right now. Consequently, it looks like tight end will be a high priority in the 2017 NFL draft, but there are surprises every preseason. It will be interesting to see how this crop of young tight ends rises to the challenge in 2016.
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.