Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst and his scouting staff will have a busy next couple of months. The start of NFL free agency and the NFL Draft will be here before they know it. The current roster has several vital holes to fill. Right at the top of that list is the Green Bay Packers tight ends.
Green Bay Packers Must Get Better Tight Ends
This past season, the four Green Bay Packers tight ends combined for 76 receptions for 676 yards and just four receiving yards. In a league full of tight ends that have the ability to stretch the middle of the field, the Packers currently do not have one on their roster.
Unfortunately, Gutekunst’s small number of attempts to upgrade the position have failed. 2019 third-round selection Jace Sternberger was the biggest miss. Gutekunst envisioned Sternberger being that type of pass-catching tight end the Packers had been missing. Instead, Sternberger caught just 12 passes in his Packers career and will now be suiting up in the USFL.
In 2020, Gutekunst once again spent a third-round pick on the position. This time, it was Josiah Deguara out of Cincinnati. But Deguara is best utilized as an h-back, lining up as a tight end but more so as a fullback. When given the chance, Deguara has played well as a lead blocker for running backs Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon. But head coach/offensive play-caller, Matt LaFleur, hasn’t utilized him as much as he should.
The most successful move Gutekunst has made at the tight-end position is the signing of Marcedes Lewis in 2018. The veteran tight end has given the Packers one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL. Unfortunately, in Lewis’s advanced age, he doesn’t bring much to the Packers passing game.
While Gutekunst’s track record isn’t too stellar when comes to recognizing tight-end talent, it is well overdue that he upgrades the position. No matter if it’s Aaron Rodgers or Jordan Love starting at quarterback in 2023, either one could benefit from a solid pass-catching tight end.
A Decision to be Made with Tonyan
At the conclusion of the 2020 season, it appeared that the Packers had found their tight end of the future and the present. That season, Robert Tonyan hauled in 52 passes for 586 yards with 11 touchdown receptions. The former college quarterback/wide receiver was a favorite of Rodgers that season. Not only was he able to stretch the middle of the field, but he was also a major weapon for Aaron Rodgers in the red zone.
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) December 14, 2020
Unfortunately, since then, Tonyan hasn’t been able to duplicate that success. In 2021, Tonyan was asked to do more blocking than pass-catching because of injuries to the Packers starting offensive line. When it appeared that he would start being utilized more in the passing game, he suffered a season-ending knee injury. His injury caused a massive hole in the Packers offense.
Tonyan made his way back this past season. But while he did catch 53 passes for 470 yards, he only caught two touchdown passes. There are several factors that could have played a part in his not producing more. Coming off a major injury is one factor, but also the direction of the offense. It appeared that the Packers struggled to find an offensive identity in 2022. Because of that, it could have played a part in Tonyan not posting bigger numbers.
There is also a chance that Tonyan will never produce as he did in 2020. With Tonyan slated to be a free agent, similar to Lewis, that will play a factor in if Gutekunst and the Packers re-sign him. If the Packers choose not to re-sign Tonyan, they would be walking away from their best pass-catching tight end in the past three seasons.
Strong Tight End Draft Class
With the Packers currently strapped for cash, signing a free-agent tight end is most likely out of the question. Even if the Packers were to find some money (which is doubtful) it most likely wouldn’t be enough to land a top free-agent tight end.
That means, if Gutekunst is going to upgrade the Green Bay Packers tight ends, it’s going to have to be through the draft. Lucky for Gutekunst and the Packers, this crop of rookie tight ends looks strong.
Topping that list is Notre Dame’s, Michael Mayer. If Notre Dame needed someone to make a big catch, most of the time it was Mayer making it. This past season he hauled in 67 passes for 809 yards with nine touchdown receptions. He did all of this even with being the focal point of opposing defenses.
But grabbing a tight end with the 15th overall pick seems like a possible reach. In a recent article by fellow writer Jonathan Barnett, he made a strong argument on the Packers holding off to address the tight end. With the position being so deep, he makes a strong argument.
If Gutekunst waits until the second or third round, there will still be some very solid prospects to choose from. Georgia’s Darnell Washington, Utah’s Dalton Kincaid, and South Dakota’s Tucker Kraft all should be available in the second or third round.
One name for Packers fans to remember is Luke Musgrave. He played in a pro-style offense at Oregon State and flourished as both a blocker and pass catcher. While Musgrave is flying up draft boards, there is still a chance he will be around in the second round. He would be a perfect fit in LaFleur’s offense.
A Tight End for the Future
There is a very good chance that the future of the Green Bay Packers offense will start in 2023. If Rodgers departs (retirement or via trade), and Love is the starter, the Packers offense will look a lot different than it has in years past under Rodgers.
If that becomes reality, it would be a perfect time to find a young tight end to partner up with Love. In most cases when a young quarterback is the starter, their best friend (and weapon) is the tight end. Giving Love a tight end like Mayer, or even Musgrave might help with his maturation.
But even if Rodgers does return to Green Bay next season, selecting a tight end high in the draft would be a safe bet. With Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs manning the outside, a young tight end to stretch the middle of the field will greatly benefit Rodgers and the offense. The time is now to find the Packers tight end of the future and the present.
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