With a lack of depth at tight end and a stacked corps of young wide receivers, perhaps it is not unthinkable that the Green Bay Packers will keep seven wide receivers heading in to 2016. The Packers have kept four tight ends on the final fifty-three man roster in each of the past five years, but one has to question whether they will continue the trend this year.
The Packers’ two top tier tight ends are unquestionably free agent addition Jared Cook and Richard Rodgers. Behind them, however, the Packers have nothing but question marks. Kennard Backman was a sixth-round pick in 2015 but saw very little playing time in his rookie season, making exactly zero catches on offense. Backman has made a few plays in training camp, but he’s certainly a raw prospect.
First big play of camp for Kennard Backman. 2nd-year tight end high-pointed a fade from Joe Callahan over Blake Martinez. Showed athleticism
— Rob Demovsky (@RobDemovsky) August 4, 2016
Justin Perillo joined the Packers as an undrafted rookie out of Maine in 2014, seeing some special teams playing time in two games. In 2015, Perillo’s role increased in part due to the Packers’ lack of depth at tight end. He saw playing time in nine games and showed some ability to make plays with the offense, hauling in 11 receptions for 102 yards and one touchdown. Backman is certainly the more athletic player between the two of them, but Perillo has the experience with the offense. Neither tight end has shown significant talent as a blocker, something that the Packers are in desperate need of behind below-average blockers Cook and Rodgers.
Mitchell Henry was able to make the practice squad as an undrafted rookie last year, but he would appear to be an even longer shot to make the team than Backman or Perillo.
Meanwhile, the Packers have some hard decisions to make with their wide receivers, leading some to believe that they will make the rare decision to keep seven players on the final roster. Lock-in veterans include Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and Davante Adams. Jeff Janis and Jared Abbrederis have both shown more than enough to warrant a roster spot. Ty Montgomery, though still nursing an injured ankle procured late in the 2015 season, is certainly not going anywhere, and neither is 2016 fifth-round pick Trevor Davis. That’s already seven wide receivers, which is not to mention highly talent players added to the Packers’ training camp roster like Geronimo Allison, Ed Williams, and the lightning fast Harvey Binford.
So is it possible that the Packers will keep Nelson, Cobb, Adams, Montgomery, Davis, Janis, and Abbrederis, hoping to stash a few more wide receivers on the practice squad? It’s certainly more likely given the relative dearth of talent at tight end. If the team were to select its roster based upon individual football players, it might be a no-brainer to keep seven wide receivers and only three tight ends.
Still, such a move might be needlessly risky. Cook recently underwent foot surgery. Though the Packers were hoping to have him back by the start of training camp, Cook has already missed the first eight days of camp. While he’s expected to be ready to go soon, it’s a reminder of how quickly guys can go down in the NFL. Keeping only three tight ends essentially means that the Packers have to rely upon all three to remain healthy all year.
Still, the risk may be worth keeping a better set of players. Backman is still eligible for the practice squad after being active for only seven games last year. Perhaps the Packers will attempt to stash him there, calling him up if he is needed later on. Perhaps the Packers attempt the same with Mitchell Henry instead. This would leave the Packers with three capable tight ends on the active roster and the ability to keep all of their most coveted wide receivers. Perillo has shown himself to be capable of stepping in to the offense in a pinch and is also a reliable special teams player. Of course, all of this will come down to the nuances and idiosyncrasies of the special teams. The Packers like to use four tight ends on special teams, and would obviously have to adjust this if only three are kept.
In most years, keeping seven wide receivers would seem like folly, something done on Madden but not in real life football. However, if there were ever a team and a year where it might make sense, it would be the Green Bay Packers in 2016. There may not be much to gain with keeping that fourth tight end while the same cannot be said for being able to keep around a guy like Jared Abbrederis, especially coming off of a year where the Packers struggled so much in the receiving game.——————
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.