As of this writing, the Green Bay Packers chose not to dive into the murky waters of the free agent tight end market. Austin Hooper, the primary target the Packers were expected to pursue, signed with Cleveland and became the highest-paid tight end in the game, while Hunter Henry has been franchise tagged by Los Angeles.
The Packers could still sign a tight end, but the top options are gone. Outside of (hopefully) resigning Marcedes Lewis and/or a rogue Eric Ebron or Delanie Walker signing, the Packers will need to look to the draft for options.
The Packers have much bigger needs than tight end and will want to focus their early picks on a combination of offensive tackle, wide receiver, and inside linebacker. This is fine because this isn’t a particularly great tight end class, so Green Bay won’t need to spend an overly high pick to get one of the better options.
There aren’t any Hockenson/Fant/Smith-level prospects in this draft, but there are enough solid players that can complement Sternberger in the mid rounds of the draft. We’ll focus on the top three.
Brycen Hopkins, rSr. Purdue
College stats: 130 receptions/1945 yards/16 TDs
Hopkins possesses excellent route running abilities and good burst. He can be a mismatch in LaFleur’s offense and has good contested-catch skills, but his catching technique needs refined. He wins with athleticism and will play like a big wide receiver. His value to the Packers will come from his crisp route running, athleticism, and red zone threat potential.
As a blocker, he is willing but underwhelming. He won’t take plays off and is eager, but, based on his tape, won’t be a major factor in the blocking game. LaFleur is likely going to be more interested in dual-threat tight ends to sell his “illusion of complexity”, but Hopkins could fill the role Jimmy Graham was meant for. With Sternberger impressing more as a blocker than scouts projected, Hopkins receiving abilities could make him a fantastic TE2.
Hunter Bryant, Jr. Washington
College stats: 85 receptions/1394 yards/5 TDs
While Bryant lacks the ideal size you’d like for a tight end (which is always a weird thing to type, considering he’s taller than me), he makes an excellent move tight end. As a “big wide receiver” type, he has all the tools one would want: he’s tough, a polished route runner, athletic, and has ridiculous burst. His speed adds a dimension that the Packers’ offense sorely needs, though he has struggled with drops so far. As a receiving tight end, he’s an ideal prospect.
However, blocking will be an issue and affect his draft stock. Bryant is a willing blocker but doesn’t have the size or strength to excel as a blocker. He’ll need to add strength regardless, but it’s best to focus on his receiving abilities. Bryant wouldn’t be an ideal TE1, but as a complement to Sternberger (and potentially Lewis), he makes a lot of sense.
Cole Kmet, Jr. Notre Dame
College states: 60 receptions/691 yards/6 TDs
Kmet is a big boi and features ideal size for the position. Kmet started as a two-sport athlete (baseball and football) and didn’t focus on football until his sophomore year. He’s still raw as both a receiver and a blocker, but he shows promising traits in both regards.
He has some of the best catching abilities of any tight end in this class, with soft hands and the ability to use his length to make contested catches. He lacks the burst of the other tight ends mentioned in this article but is a functional and tough athlete.
He’s more developed as a blocker than the other two prospects, and because he’s still raw, he has the potential for even more growth, which is exciting. He could be a true threat with some coaching and strength building. Kmet has the traits to grow as both a receiver and a blocker and can develop into a true dual-threat tight end. He makes a lot of sense for the Packers in the middle rounds as a moldable piece of clay for the offensive coaching staff.
Perhaps the Packers choose to go for a later round option and see what can happen down the road, but these three prospects have the greatest chance of having an impact right away.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.