The Green Bay Packers’ offense left a lot to be desired in 2017. Absent Aaron Rodgers, the passing attack floundered as it slipped to the eighth-fewest yards through the air in the NFL. That tied the lowest finish for Green Bay since Rodgers took over at QB; even the 2013 squad led by Scott Tolzien, Seneca Wallace, and Matt Flynn for half the season performed better.
The ground game fared only slightly better, with stand out rookies Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones combining for a (barely) 1000-yard season en route to the 17th most rushing yards in the league. The offense as a whole also struggled to find the end zone, averaging just 20 points per game in 2017, good for 20th in the NFL. That marks just the second time in the last decade that Green Bay hasn’t fielded a top 10 scoring offense, and the only time they’ve ranked in the league’s bottom half.
The team will look to improve upon all of those numbers in 2018, and made some key offseason moves to be able to do that. While Green Bay elected to let Jordy Nelson walk, the additions of Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis to the receiving corps could pay major dividends for the Packers’ offensive flexibility. Add in the return of a healthy Aaron Rodgers, and the offense should be just find in the coming season.
The two new tight ends bring vastly different skill sets that Green Bay should be able to utilize. Graham represents a dynamic pass catcher who should be a massive red zone target for Rodgers. While the 6’7” receiver racked up just 520 yards with Seattle last year–his lowest total since his rookie season–his 10 touchdown receptions ranked second in the league behind only DeAndre Hopkins.
Graham should also be featured more in the Packers’ pass-heavy offense, so it would not be surprising to see him match his scoring totals while also significantly increasing his yardage from last year. Green Bay has lacked a true pass-catching threat who can control the middle of the field since Jermichael Finley’s career was cut short by an injury, as experiments with Richard Rodgers, Jared Cook, and Martellus Bennett failed for various reasons. But Jimmy Graham possesses the skill set to change that–especially in the red zone–in 2018.
Meanwhile, Marcedes Lewis brings a different style of play to the Packers’ offense. Despite not being featured heavily in the Jacksonville passing game (he has not exceeded 25 receptions since 2012), his prowess as a run blocker should supplement Green Bay’s ground attack nicely. Pro Football Focus had Lewis as the top run blocking tight end in 2017, a feat made even more impressive given it was his age-33 season. Lewis also recorded five touchdowns on his 24 catches last season, giving Rodgers yet another big (6’6”) target in the end zone (for comparison, Packers’ tight ends combined for two touchdowns on 56 catches last year).
The ability of Graham’s and Lewis’ skill sets to complement one another should allow Mike McCarthy to get more creative with the offense in 2018. The Packers can trot out two tight end sets, with defenses being unsure whether the team will be looking to pass or run. According to Sharp Football Stats Green Bay ran just 171 plays with at least two tight ends last season, the second-fewest in all of football. The ability to mix in different personnel groups should allow Rodgers and the offense to better deceive and exploit opposing defenses in a way that was simply not possible with the team’s 2017 tight ends.
Green Bay’s offense has a lot of pieces to be excited about in the upcoming season, from the emergence of Davante Adams as a true superstar to the sophomore campaign of electric running back Aaron Jones. Even without Nelson, the flexibility and creativity afforded by the Packers’ two new tight ends should allow Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense to get back near the top of the NFL.——————
Sean Blashe is a Packers fan who grew up in Bears territory and is currently a journalism and history major at Marquette University. Sean is a writer with PackersTalk.com and you can follow him on twitter at @SeanBlashe .