After focusing on the Packer wideouts, where there is steep competition, we move onto the other receiving position: tight end. With a new face through free agency, a reliable option back and two young guys with promise, there is a lot to look forward to. But we still need to narrow it down and figure out the best guys for the roster.
For this series, which will finish by training camp starts, we will look at each and every player on the roster, breaking down their strengths, weaknesses, their role, and their best and worst case scenarios. I will also project their role. Let’s dive into the depths of the Packers pool of talent.
#89 JARED COOK
6’5” 254 lbs. Age 29 (8th Season)
Signed as a Free Agent on March 28, 2016.
Drafted by Tennessee in the 3rd Round (89th Overall) in 2009 Draft from South Carolina
Strengths: A natural pass catcher, Cook is an incredible athlete who has the ideal size to stretch the seam and the speed to break big plays. Excellent jump ball receiver (41” vertical at 2009 Combine) who high points the ball well and hangs on to it in traffic. Fairly strong as well, put up 23 reps at Combine and is a functional blocker who can open holes and seal lanes well.
Weaknesses: Inconsistent and has had questions about his effort and desire. Showed flashes of dominance, but only flashes. Can lose focus and drop easy passes and at times doesn’t focus on his hand placement when blocking and disengages too quickly at times.
Underrated Attribute: Second level blocking.
Role: Starting Tight End, middle of the field and red zone target.
Best Case: Cook sets a career high in catches and yard, putting up Finley-esque numbers (70 catches, 800 yards, 8 TDs) and signs long term in Green Bay after seeing the impact a great QB can have for him.
Worst Case: Cook continues more of the same that he showed in Tennessee and St. Louis, making some highlight reel plays while struggling with consistency. Loses his starting job midway through the season and becomes an expendable piece.
Projection: Cook looks determined in minicamp, and while a foot injury has sidelined him until camp, he looks to be 100% for the season. He should put up a career year with Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball and become that receiving tight end that the Packers needed.
#82 RICHARD RODGERS
6’4” 257 lbs. Age 24 (3rd Season)
Drafted in the 3rd Round (98th Overall) in 2014 from California
Strengths: Wonderful, soft hands. Rodgers doesn’t drop the ball. Universally praised for his work and ability to listen to instruction/criticism. Good route runner, can create separation from linebackers. Improving blocker who is willing to mix it up on the line. Clutch, made numerous huge plays in his career (2014 Playoffs vs Dallas, Miracle in Motown). Real weapon in the red zone (8 TDs last year)
Weaknesses: For a former wideout, Rodgers doesn’t have good speed. He is more of a possession tight end who is effective in short yardage and can move the chains but won’t break a big play. Takes some time to get out of stance at times, especially in the run game. Lack of strength has hurt him as a blocker and a receiver in the flat.
Underrated Attribute: First Down Awareness
Role: Backup tight end, in between the 20s weapon.
Best Case: Rodgers outplays Jared Cook and earns more playing time as season goes on and improves on last year’s 58 catches and 510 yards. He cements himself as the future of the Packers TE positon.
Worst Case: We get more of the same from Rodgers, lack of tackles broken and consistency but no big plays unless it’s a Hail Mary.
Projection: Rodgers and Cook on paper go well together, much like Chmura and Jackson in the mid-90s and Rich-Rod puts up around 40 catches this season and 5 touchdowns.
#85 MITCHELL HENRY
6’4” 252 lbs. Age 23 (2nd Season)
Signed as an Undrafted Free Agent on May 8, 2015 from Western Kentucky
Strengths: Good hands, natural hands catcher. Henry is a precise route runner who gets out of cuts on crossing routes well. Tough, played and produced with a broken hand last preseason. Doesn’t hear footsetps, willing to take a hit to make the catch. Bulked up almost 10 pounds from last season. Willing to play special teams.
Weaknesses: Not strong enough yet to be an in-line blocker consistently. Undrafted free agent status hurts him.
Underrated Attribute: Toughness
Role: 3rd Tight End/H-Back. Could transition to FB/H-Back if Ripkowski doesn’t pan out. Special teams key.
Best Case: Henry wows in camp like last season and makes the team as the 3rd TE. Doesn’t see the field much on offense but catches 10-15 passes when he does. He becomes a staple of the special teams units.
Worst Case: Gets hurt of doesn’t improve from last year and is a victim of final cuts before landing on the practice squad.
Projection: The Packers were high on him last year but decided to try to sneak him on the Practice Squad last year. It didn’t work. That won’t be a problem this year. Henry beats out Kennard Backman for the final tight end spot and shows enough potential to be a Chris Cooley-type player for the team.
#86 KENNARD BACKMAN
6’3” 245 lbs. Age 23 (2nd Season)
Drafted in the 6th Round (213th Overall) in 2014 from UAB
Strengths: Natural receiver, shows strong hands and solid adjustment ability to poor passes. Durable, played four full seasons at UAB and produced. Willing to drive forward to gain maximum yardage. Willing to work and drew praise from the coaches last year on the scout team.
Weaknesses: Needs major work on his route running, rounds off cuts. Poor blocker who doesn’t read defensive linemen very well yet and not strong enough to make up for it. One-dimensional player who is a prototypical H-Back.
Underrated Attribute: Tackle breaking after the catch.
Role: 3rd or 4th TE, special teamer
Best Case: Backman lives up to his draft billing and become the 3rd TE this season and is active for every game, catching 5-10 passes and his first regular season TD.
Worst Case: Backman doesn’t progress as much as the team wants and doesn’t make it past final cuts, but gets a spot on the practice squad.
Projection: Backman is too one-dimensional and gets beat out by Henry for that final spot. He does stick on the practice squad this season though with another chance in 2017.
#80 JUSTIN PERILLO
6’3” 250 lbs. Age 25 (3rd Season)
Signed as an Undrafted Free Agent on May 12, 2014 from Maine
Strengths: Dependable, what you see is what you get. Good hands, catches away from his body and plucks the ball out of the air. Very good at finding soft spots in zone coverage and has confidence from Aaron Rodgers. Best blocker of all the Tight Ends and can drive guys off the ball. Good special teamer who throws his body around. Has trust of coaches.
Weaknesses: Doesn’t have top end speed or even mid-end speed. A throwback tight end in every sense of the word. Runs only average routes. Likely has reached his ceiling, and hasn’t made the team out of camp either of his two seasons in the league.
Underrated Attribute: Tenacity
Role: 3rd/4th TE or Practice Squad player
Best Case: Perillo proves himself indispensable with his special teams play and chemistry with the QBs and finally makes the team out of camp.
Worst Case: We’ve seen Perillo’s ceiling and it isn’t good enough anymore. He gets cut after the final preseason game and his NFL career is over.
Projection: Perillo is a dependable, consistent player but we’ve seen his best already. He makes it to final cuts but like the past couple of seasons, gets cut. This time though, he catches on to another team like the Jets as a blocking tight end.
#49 CASEY PIERCE
6’3” 248 lbs. Age 24 (1st Season)
Signed as a Free Agent on May 9, 2016
Signed as an Undrafted Free Agent by Detroit on May 7, 2015 from Kent State
Strengths: Natural receiver, has very soft hands and can line up in multiple positions. Decent route runner who can find the seam and the flats well. Solid as a pass protector and can chip with the best of them.
Weaknesses: Good on the seam, but struggles on crossing routes as he rounds his breaks. Undersized and struggles in run blocking. Doesn’t maintain pad level consistently and can be blown off the line. Average athlete who doesn’t play super fast.
Underrated Attribute: Hands in traffic.
Role: 4th TE or Practice Squad
Best Case: Pierce shows enough to make the team as a gameday inactive TE or H-Back.
Worst Case: Pierce is a camp body and doesn’t make it past first cuts.
Projection: Pierce has potential as an H-Back but the team has a bunch of them here. He doesn’t make it past first cuts but catches on immediately with another team on their practice squad. He is caught in a numbers game with numerous guys (Cook, Henry, Backman) very similar to him.
Summarizing my projections
First Cuts: Pierce
Final Cuts: Perillo, Backman (PS)
Making the Team: Cook, R. Rodgers, Henry
There is a lot to like about this group if they realize their potential. Cook could be a star and Rodgers is consistent. Like I said in Rodgers’ projection, they could be the next coming of Chmura and Keith Jackson with their complementary skill sets. If Cook develops chemistry with Aaron Rodgers, look out.
Now this Wednesday we get to the final piece of the offense and the group facing the most future shakeup: the offensive line.——————
Mike Wendlandt is originally from Iola, Wisconsin and graduated from Drake University in 2015 with a degree in History. With a significant journalism background both in writing and broadcasting, Mike can be heard as the play-by-play voice of Central Wisconsin High School sports on WDUX FM 92.7 and on Twitter @MikeWendlandt.
Mike Wendlandt is a writer covering the Green Bay Packers for PackersTalk.com.