Packers’ 2019 Tight End Makeover: Part 1

Matt LaFleur’s staff is taking shape with a cornucopia of new coaches, including new offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. After original reports had tight ends coach Brian Angelichio as one of the few returning members of McCarthy’s staff, reports late Monday night have LaFleur hiring Falcon’s quality control/assistant o-line coach Justin Outten as the Packers new tight ends coach. While surprising, this change makes one thing clear: it is time for the Green Bay Packers to give their tight end group a serious makeover.

The Green Bay Packers haven’t had a truly dominant tight end since Jermichael Finley’s injury in 2013. The new coaching staff’s offensive renaissance and a deep draft class make 2019 the perfect year to rehaul the tight end position. Because I’m a solution-oriented guy, over the next few weeks I’ll look at the options available to the Packers in-house, through free agency, and in the draft.

Before I delve into the current roster of tight ends its important to understand how the hirings of Matt LaFleur and Nathaniel Hackett will effect the position. LaFleur’s offense is heavily based on the run and successful use of play-action. This has two major implications regarding tight ends. First, due to their role in the run game the Packers will want tight ends who can block. Second, dual-threat tight ends are paramount so as not to tip defenses off to the intent of the play. The more an individual tight end can do the more valuable they are to this offense.

With this in mind, can any of the Green Bay Packers’ current tight ends thrive in this offense?

Jimmy Graham
Age:32
2018 stats: 55 receptions/636 yards/2 TDs. 74.02% of offensive snaps.
PFF Grade: 59.4

Signing Graham was one of Brian Gutekunst’s first moves as GM and the Packers had little to show for it in 2018. Once the biggest household name at the position it seems age has caught up with Graham. He had subpar YAC and drops plagued this season. Graham has never been much of a blocker and plays more like a big wide receiver. Better analysts than I have looked into how his cap space will effect the Packers (particularly CheeseheadTV’s Andy Herman). Maybe another offseason working with Aaron Rodgers can alleviate some of the issues in the passing game, but with LaFleur’s offense being more suited to a dual-threat tight end I can see the Packers letting Graham go, even considering the significant cap hit.

Lance Kendricks
Age: 30
2018 stats: 19/171/1. 29.24% of snaps.
PFF Grade: 60.5

Kendricks actually looked better this season than last and McCarthy awarded him with the second most offensive snaps. Despite this Kendricks hasn’t proven to be anything more than a rotational player. He’s come up short on big plays and isn’t particularly impressive as a receiver or blocker. The Packers are getting younger and there is so much talent available at the position this year. I see Green Bay moving on.

Marcedes Lewis
Age: 34
2018 stats: 3/39/0. 17.69% of snaps.
PFF Grade: 52.2

Lewis was signed to operate as a blocker and I thought we’d see a lot of two tight end sets with he and Graham. This never really came to pass and he was outsnapped by Kendricks. He was unimpressive in the passing game, but with so few snaps he was often coming in cold and never had opportunities to get into a rhythm with the offense. In his recent interview with Martellus Bennett he aired comments about the relationship between Rodgers and McCarthy and was critical of McCarthy’s use of tight ends. He worked with Nathaniel Hackett in Jacksonville and is solid in the pass game and as a blocker. Depending on how the Packers feel about his comments I can see Lewis being retained.

Robert Tonyan
Age: 24
2018 stats: 4/77/1. 6.24% of snaps.
PFF Grade: 61.2

The highest graded tight end in Green Bay, Tonyan made the most of limited snaps. He’s shown promise in the passing game but still needs work as a blocker. He had an incredible touchdown against the Seahawks and it seems like chemistry is building between he and Rodgers. Due to the low cost and high upside Tonyan brings I think he stays in Green Bay as a promising rotational player.

Next week I’ll take a look at potential tight end free agents and whether Green Bay should once again jump into that pool.

Matt Hendershott is a Packers fan and Miller High Life enthusiast from Northwest Ohio. He has a Master of Arts in Media and Communication from Bowling Green State University. You can follow him on Twitter @MattHendershott.
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