Drafting a TE in the first round is a reach

Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce, George Kittle, Rob Gronkowski, a fearsome foursome of the most dangerous tight ends in the NFL . Yet, none were drafted in the first round. Why? General managers recognize that the tight end is still not a position of high value. As a matter of fact it would be a mistake for the Green Bay Packers to draft a tight end in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft.

Reaching for a tight end in the first round would be a failure on the Packers part to recognize the value in the 2019 NFL Draft. Now, it is awfully easy to buy into the hype of the tight ends of this years’ draft class. T.J. Hockenson, and Noah Fant, both of Iowa, are each fantastic players who could go on to have long and productive NFL careers. However, in order to get either of them the Packers would have to use a premium draft pick at a non-premium position. Which, per Adam Schefter of ESPN, they have intelligently been loathe to do:

In the 2019 NFL Draft, the Green Bay Packers would be wise to continue this trend. A revision of tight ends drafted in the first round of the past decade does not paint a picture of success:

In 2009, the Lions drafted Brandon Pettigrew 20th overall. He became a solid overall player and blocking tight end, but never caught more than five touchdowns in a season. Jared Cook, the man that brought Jerry World* to its knees a few years ago, was taken 89th overall that same year and remains a high level mismatch in the middle of the field. A year later, Cincinnati took Jermaine Gresham with the 21st pick. Gresham is still in the league and is an excellent role model as well. However, the most dominate player to ever play the position, Rob Gronkowski, was drafted with the 42nd pick on the second day of that draft. Flip ahead to 2013, and the Bengals yet again use the 21st pick to select a tight end. Tyler Eifert is a fantastic player when healthy, and one can only hope he recovers and returns to form. Nonetheless, Zach Ertz, he of the game-winning touchdown in SuperBowl 52, was chosen that very same year at pick number 35. Later in that draft, the Chiefs selected Travis Kelce with the 63rd overall selection. One can make the argument these two players, with Gronk’s retirement, are the gold standard of the position.

The Detroit Lions selected Eric Ebron of North Carolina 10th overall, making him the highest drafted player at the position since Vernon Davis in 2006. In Detroit, Ebron was an oft-injured, massive disappoint, never catching more than five touchdowns in a season. He broke out in a big way with Indianapolis in 2018 (and for my fantasy team), catching thirteen touchdowns from Andrew Luck. But are the Packers really drafting for production five years down the road? The 2017 NFL Draft saw O.J Howard (Buccaneers), Evan Engram (Giants), and David Njoku (Browns), all drafted in the first round. While it is too early to comment on their overall careers, George Kittle was drafted in the fifth round, 146th overall in that same class. All he did last year for the 49ers was explode with the most receiving yards ever for a tight end in a season. A record once held by Gronk, Jimmy Graham, and for a short time, Travis Kelce. That’s some pretty good company, and makes Kittle, another tight end from Iowa, an absolute steal.

The most telling statistic from the list above is the combined playoff wins for the TE drafted in the first round of the past decade: 2. The first by Jermaine Gresham, by that time of the Arizona Cardinals after the 2015 season. In a game where Gresham caught a grand total of zero passes. The second came just this past year, as Eric Ebron, also with his second team, caught a touchdown in the Colts victory over the Texans. You may remember Jeff Janis’ breakout game on January 16th, 2016:

To summarize, intelligent football czars do not draft tight ends in the first round. They understand the position has become far more valuable in the pass happy NFL of the past fifteen years. In spite of that, the teams who are successful drafting the position find the value in the later rounds of the draft, while using first round picks to draft players at premium positions. Just look at the teams who have taken a TE in the first round lately. Lions, Bengals, Buccaneers, Browns, Giants, the dregs of the NFL. Other than the Ravens, have any of those teams seen recent success? Do they looked poised to make playoff runs in 2019 off the backs of their dominate first round tight ends?

The 2019 tight end class may be the most talented in recent memory. Noah Fant and TJ Hockenson are top level players. Despite that, the level of depth at the position in this draft should allow the Packers to grab an impact player after the first round. Be it Irv Smith Jr. of Alabama, Dawson Knox of Ole Miss, or Caleb Wilson of UCLA there are talented players that can be had in later rounds this year. Intriguingly, the Packers recently had a top-30 meeting with Jace Sternberger, the tight end from Texas A&M. Green Bay may have already shown their hand with their interest in a player expected to be available far after the first round. Ultimately, drafting a tight end after the first round in this years’ draft could easily prove to be the most logical and prudent decision for GM Brian Gutekunst to make.

Nick is a lifelong Packers fan. 4th and 26 was on his 13th birthday, unlucky. Follow him @CANDRAFTGEEK647 on Twitter for all your Packers draft needs and questions.

16 thoughts on “Drafting a TE in the first round is a reach

  1. A great tight end is invaluable. If you feel there’s a tight end who will be great, take him in the first round.

  2. Your logic is wrong, especially when looking at the ‘gold standard’ of TEs. Kelce was suspended and sat out an entire year so he dropped due to off the field concerns, Gronk had injury concerns so he naturally dropped, and Ertz was at 35, which is damn near a 1st with the 3rd pick of the 2nd round. If we were to re-draft those years, do you think they don’t go in the first? They all absolutely do, maybe even in the top 20.

    Now let’s look at the last few years, Eifert, OJ, Engram were all drafted where they should have been and they have produced as mismatch nightmares. Even Ebron should have gone in the first, maybe not top 10, but athleticism and upside alone, he should have been a 1st and has been playing like it.

    TEs who are worthy and there appear to be two this year should be valued as a first round pick, but it also depends on scheme and need. You can’t make a blanket statement that those who know don’t draft in the 1st as that’s ridiculous

  3. Ya, it’s such a reach we haven’t had a significant one on decades. I’m sorry, but the payout this season is worth the investment. If we draft another DL in the 1st round, I’ll remember the excellence of Datone Jones, and jump off the *-ing Mason Street Bridge into the icy waters of the Fox river. Would you please invest serious attention to the TE POSITION ONCE IN MY LIFETIME? MY GOSH, nobody gets it!!! The model of success is available via Gronkowski and Kelsey, gee, lets suck our thumbs in the corner while Hockensen gets drafted 1-2 picks after we select the next mediocre DL in Green and Gold. I’m sorry, this team HAS DONE NOTHING ABOUT THE TE POSITION SINCE CHMURA AND KEITH JACKSON!!!!!!!!! Can we fix this already???

    1. The top 50 players are shown each year and Hochensen is number 5. If we pass on him at 12 and he may not make it to 12 I know we’ll regret it. Oliver the DL from Houston had a sensational pro day and is being hailed as the next Aaron Donald.Don’t be fooled because I’ve heard with all his talent he’s not as advertised. I hope we go offense for a change with the first pick and that’s just my opinion.Here’s hoping we can draft some REAL talent with 6 picks in the top 100 or so.

  4. I couldn’t agree more. The Packers don’t make good use of tight-ends an Rodgers doesn’t like throwing to them. He likes wide outs staying wide or wide-outs running crossing routes: choosing one in the first, or even second round would be a waste. Besides, they already have Jimmy Graham and Tonyan to develop.

    I’d go: OL, DL, S which ever presents the best opportunity as each pick is on the clock. Get this right and then look at: WR, TE, RB at the end of day two and beyond.

    1. When Rodgers had Finley to throw to he threw to him. Unfortunately, Finley couldn’t (or didn’t want to ) block and, as I responded to you on another site, the Packers will be using an outside zone scheme this year and a good blocking tight end is an absolute must!

    2. There’s a new sheriff in town and his name is Matt LeFleur. With him and Gute together putting the team together there may be surprises. The first three picks could be interesting and I’ll leave it at that.

  5. We have habitually picked duds for defensive linemen; it looks like we have a couple of pro bowl type Tight Ends this year and I would like to get one. Rodgers would throw to a TE if we had one who was worth a hoot.

    1. I agree. We drafted defense every year since 2010 when we won the Super Bowl and drafted Derrick Sherrod. He had a severely broken leg in our only lose that season at the Chiefs. Sorry to say he never was the same and was left go. I know for a fact that three players drafted in the first round aren’t even with the team. Datone Jones, Damarious Randall and Clinton-Dix. Why not take a chance with a new head coach who loves the tight end position and new GM.Mock drafts are showing three possibly going in the first round which is unheard of but it’s a new NFL. Like you said give Arod another weapon to break in and a slot receiver. I like Andy Isabella from UMASS.

  6. I have lived in Wisconsin for 16 years and I’m as big a Packer fan as they get, but I have never been able to figure out Packer fans’ obsession with TEs. Every year it’s the same thing – “We need a TE! We need to prioritize this position!” – even when we have other glaring needs to fill. I’ve had this debate with a certain coworker every draft time – it’s “TE! TE! TE!” with him every year, too.

    This year we NEED an entire right side of the O-line, an inside LB that’s solid in coverage, and a dependable if not game-changing WR2. The Packers haven’t had a TE of note since Ron Kramer – Jermichael didn’t have enough quality time in GB to be considered. TEs are to many Packer fans what the Red Ryder BB gun was to Ralphie in “A Christmas Story”.

    1. TEs are to many Packer fans what the Red Ryder BB gun was to Ralphie in “A Christmas Story”…LMAO

    2. Well, this is what I think as well, but there’s such a ground-swell of enthusiastic support for an early TE pick. There are other much more pressing needs. Who is going to play safety alongside Amos, for example? How can the existing OL stop Rodgers running for his life every third down? With the budget blown for 2020, we need to start preparing a replacement for Mike Daniels. Etc, etc.

  7. Here’s to hoping we draft the BPA with the 12th pick and maybe even another pro bowl talent will drop into our laps and we’ll ignore him. Devin White or Montez Sweat are my picks on defense.

  8. I posted something similar as a comment in a Packernet article. Everyone’s looking for the next Gronk, but it’s basically gambling with, what I believe was only a 10% success rate for elite TEs in the draft the last 6-7 years (not including 2018).

    Pack can wait until 30 and Fant or Irv Smith should still be available. They should take a pass rusher at #12. You can never have too many of them.

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