As we all know, the tight end position is one that has puzzled this Green Bay Packers team since the days of Jermichael Finley. In recent seasons they just haven’t been able to find consistent production.
Over the years, Green Bay hasn’t spent an early round draft pick on the position but rather has tried to solve the problem in free agency.
Jared Cook played well once he was healthy, but wouldn’t stick around. The Martellus Bennett signing was a disaster to put it simply. And last season, Marcedes Lewis was grossly underutilized, while Jimmy Graham wasn’t the red zone threat we had hoped he would be.
This offseason, the aforementioned Bennett along with Lewis discussed the tight ends role with the Packers on Yahoo Sports’, “Mostly Football”. In that episode, Bennett mentioned how difficult it was for tight ends to produce in Mike McCarthy’s system.
Well moving forward things are expected to be much different in that regard under new head coach Matt LaFleur, as the tight end plays a big role in his offensive scheme.
Enter the Packers’ third-round draft pick Jace Sternberger, who many are expecting to be a game changer in the receiving game. And while he has the tools to do so, it likely won’t be this season.
Sternberger is coming off of a Junior season at Texas A&M where he hauled in 48 receptions, for 17.3 yards per catch and 10 touchdowns. He was a YAC monster as he was quite difficult for defenders to take down.
However, with what Sternberger can bring to the passing game, he lacks experience as an inline blocker, which is an ability that is going to play an integral role for tight ends in LaFleur’s system.
At Texas A&M, Sternberger was used quite a bit out wide and still needs a bit of work with his blocking technique as he just doesn’t have the reps that the tight ends taken ahead of him in the draft have.
Overall, looking at his skill set it is very similar to Graham’s, although obviously, it is not as refined. Given that aspect, along with his blocking issues, LaFleur may not have consistent playing time for Sternberger this season.
There is also the fact that even for the top tight ends taken every year in the draft, the jump from college ball to the NFL comes with an enormous learning curve.
A big contributor to these overall struggles for young tight ends is that the position requires them to do a little bit of everything. Tight ends have to learn blocking schemes and technique like an offensive lineman, while also learning the art of route running as a receiver would.
In fact, over the last 15 years, only two rookie tight ends have even had over 600 receiving yards during their first season. The most recent was Evan Engram in 2017 and before that, it was John Carlson in 2008.
During a recent press conference, Packers’ tight ends coach Justin Outten had a similar message for reporters when asked about Sternberger:
Just given all that is on their plates, rookie tight ends, in general, don’t see much playing time that first season.
I really do like what I have seen from Sternberger on tape and hopefully, he blossoms into a reliable red zone target for Aaron Rodgers, as well as a capable blocker, even though he may never excel at that aspect of the game.
With that said, it likely won’t be in 2019 that we see Sternberger make a huge impact, in fact, it’ll probably be the opposite.
With Graham in front of him, his raw blocking ability, and with everything that he has to learn both schematically and technically, this is a season that will be about development for Sternberger.