3 Burning Questions: Tight Ends

Moving ahead to cover the position grouping of tight ends, the Green Bay Packers experienced a decrease in tight end production in 2018, as free-agent signee Jimmy Graham did not live up to his expectations, Lance Kendricks all but disappeared from the game plan, Marcedes Lewis was not used enough and rookie Robert Tonyan flashed his potential but didn’t get enough snaps. 

In 2019, head coach Matt LaFleur will look to incorporate this position more into the offensive gameplan, as when he ran the offense down in Tennessee, he was able to put Delanie Walker in great situations through schemes, motions and routes that made him the team’s no. 1 option as a pass-catcher. 

The Packers have the weapons at tight end, having added Texas A&M draftee Jace Sternberger to the mix, but their usage of this position group needs to drastically improve. Here are three questions that will be the forefront of every fan’s mind when it comes to the tight ends this season.

Has Jimmy Graham finally hit the wall?

Putting up a far cry in terms of overall production from his days on the New Orleans Saints and the Seattle Seahawks, Graham has made the Packers investment look a bit questionable at times. Yes, Graham was forced to play with DeShone Kizer at times with Aaron Rodgers injuries popping up again, but Graham himself was not at full health, even with playing the full 16-game slate. 

His target and reception numbers mirrored his production levels while finishing his Seahawks career, but his touchdown numbers were not even in the same neighborhood. 55 receptions for 636 yards and two touchdowns is respectable, but Graham is used to putting up double-digit scoring numbers, so that was the major area of disappointment for 2018. 

As the tight end position has a lot of what-ifs tied to it, Graham needs to have a bounceback season this year, as the Packers have a lot of money tied up with him and are needing to have him be able to take the pressure off of Rodgers and Davante Adams.

Realistic expectations for Jace Sternberger?

The former Aggie was selected in the third round in this year’s draft, and his production while playing college football in the SEC should be a reason to excite Packer fans. Playing in a spread offense that incorporated a ton of motions and gadget plays, Sternberger was a very solid option. 

After having transferred from Kansas to A&M, Sternberger put up over 800 yards on only 48 receptions, catching 10 touchdowns and leaving early for the draft. Those numbers, while in a small sample size, can help show fans what to expect if he is given regular playing time in 2019. 

Sternberger has the tools to be a big-snap guy in his rookie season, and the depth chart works in his favor as well, so the odds of him putting up 30+ catches, 350+ yards and 3+ touchdowns seems quite likely, a high usage rate for a rookie is unlikely (especially in Green Bay) but Sternberger should get that type of workload in his rookie season, provided he shows he can handle it in the preseason and camps.

Who is this roster’s Delanie Walker?

Name-dropping Walker throughout this piece is a good thing, as LaFleur worked directly with game planning Walker into the offense, so it is only right that this team has a player who can take on that same role.

While Graham would be a likely candidate for this, he projects more to be a wide receiver-like weapon for LaFleur this year. Sternberger could too, but his unfamiliarity with the pace of play in the NFL may prohibit him from fulfilling that exact role. 

With Kendricks off the team and Lewis looking more like a blocking option that is under-utilized in the passing attack, that leaves one guy who looks to be able to have a breakout season: Mr. Tonyan. 

The second-year pro out of Indiana State put up the 12th-best receiving stats in 2018, which is not good. However, 4 catches for 77 yards and one touchdown, with the score coming on a 54-yard bomb against the Seahawks, showed little glimpses of the player he could become. 

Having earned the trust of the previous coaching staff, Tonyan now sets out with more confidence and the knowledge of having an NFL season under his belt. While he is a far cry from the type of player that Walker is, he could display similar traits while building up the type of player he could really be.  

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Mike Johrendt has been an avid fan of the Packers ever since he can remember. He is now a writer at PackersTalk and you can follow him on Twitter at @MJohrendt23

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