For all the talk about which wide receiver the Green Bay Packers should keep between Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, what has been lost among some fans is how poor the tight end play has been the past 21 years. In 1996, Keith Jackson and Mark Chmura were a tremendous tight end duo. Despite Chmura missing three games, the duo combined for 68 receptions for 875 yards and 10 touchdowns. Green Bay needs to get back to using the tight ends like this. However, part of that is due to the lack of talent at that position in the last number of years.
Since 1997, the Packers have only had three years in which a tight end had more than 600 yards receiving in a season……and all three were by Jermichael Finley. They lost quite a bit when he had a career-ending injury in 2013. Only five seasons of those 21 even had a tight end reach 50 catches, and again, three of those were by Finley as well.
I counted the four seasons Finley was the leading receiver among tight ends, and he averaged 48 catches for 603 yards and four touchdowns. I even counted 2010 when he had 301 yards on 21 catches, playing only five games. In that season, he was on pace to have nearly 1,000 receiving yards and around 70 catches. If you take out his shortened 2010 season, he averaged 57 catches for 703 yards and five scores. He was an absolute monster for the Packers in his tenure.
On the other hand, in the other 17 seasons, the tight end production from Green Bay was lacking, to say the least. Nine different players have led the position in receiving since 1997 (other than Finley) and the most receiving yards in a season was 575 by Donald Lee in 2007. As I mentioned above, Finley finished with more than that three times. In those other 17 years outside of Finley, on average, the leading Packers receiver among tight ends has had 35 catches for just 364 yards.
Green Bay will need stability at the position and only Lance Kendricks returns from the tight ends. Four different tight ends have led the position in receiving in the last four seasons. The last two years, Jared Cook and Martellus Bennett, led the position in receiving and they combined for 17 games played in those two seasons. Aaron Rodgers did not have much time to build a chemistry with them.
Both in free agency and in the draft, there are plenty of talented options to pick up. Normally, it takes tight ends a few years to adjust to the NFL, so it would be wise to both sign one and draft one. As a free agent, Austin Seferian-Jenkins would be a nice, balanced tight end to sign, and Penn State’s Mike Gesicki would be a big-time get at tight end in the third round. A Seferian-Jenkins/Kendricks/Gesicki trio would be nice. Mike McCarthy’s offense demands quite a bit from this position, so new General Manager Brian Gutekunst will need to make this position a top priority this offseason.——————
Jonathon Zenk is a writer for PackersTalk.com. He is a huge Packers fan, and a graduate of The University of Wisconsin - Green Bay. You can follow Jonathon on Twitter at @jzenk42