Previous flops could help set Packers' blueprint for drafting a TE

-- There's no telling which direction the Green Bay Packers will lean in when they're on the clock in April, but not only do they have time to figure it out, but they'll also have four selections in the top-75 to act on it.

One of the hottest topics of discussion is whether or not they'll aim high for one of this class' top tight end prospects: A group that includes Iowa's Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson and Alabama's Irv Smith Jr.

This class runs deep and houses some of the lesser-debated talents -- after a sizable drop-off from the names above -- like Caleb Wilson out of UCLA, Jace Sternberger from Texas A&M and Kaden Smith from Stanford. The Packers wouldn't need to reach high for any one of those names if they reserved their urgency to select a tight end for the mid-rounds.

However, the likelihood of landing a top-shelf talent anywhere in the heart of the draft descends the longer they wait to address the position.

Very few impactful tight ends have been taken outside of the first round since 2003. It's a list that highlights names such as Jason Witten, Chris Cooley, Jared Cook, Jimmy Graham, Travis Kelce and Jordan Reed -- one similarity shared amongst all six of those players is that they were third-round picks. Zach Ertz and Rob Gronkowski were the most prominent second-rounders with Zach Miller being the outlier in the sixth.

With 229 tight end prospects drafted overall in the same timespan -- and the Packers being responsible for seven of them -- at an average of 14.3 per year, the urgency to aim high seems obvious.

The Packers have relied on the free agent pool for each of the last three offseason in hopes of rejuvenating the tight end position on their roster and providing Aaron Rodgers a large body capable of vertically stretching the field. Since 2016, they've signed five -- only three remain on the roster: Jimmy Graham, Marcedes Lewis and Lance Kendricks, with both of the latter two contracts expiring in March.

Graham, meanwhile, is expected to remain in Green Bay for a second season and another opportunity to mesh with Rodgers within a redeveloped offense. The redundant efforts of plucking from free agency does coincide with the fact that the Packers haven't drafted a tight end since taking Kennard Backman in the sixth round in 2015.

If the Packers used one of their two first-round selections on a tight end, it would be their first time doing so since taking Bubba Franks 14th overall in 2000.

It would also be a strong sign that they recognize the deficiency on their roster and fully understand that Graham -- with the current situation behind him -- may not be enough to solidify the position. If 2018 was any indicator, they'd be correct, but the belief is that Graham will be able to find success in a tight end-friendly offense.

Franks is one of 22 first-round tight ends selected since 2000. Franks, along with Todd Heap, Jeremy Shockey, Heath Miller, Vernon Davis, Greg Olsen, Tyler Eifert and Eric Ebron have all impacted their respective teams in one way or another. That doesn't even include the ascending prospects from the 2017 class, O.J. Howard, Evan Engram and David Njoku.

The Packers would be more likely to add a premier tight end talent somewhere in the first round. Not doing so wouldn't kill them, of course, but their hit rate would be significantly lower than it would've been had they entered opening night of the draft with the intention of prioritizing the position.

While No. 12 overall could be too rich for someone like Hockenson and Smith could ideally be available at No. 44, No. 30 seems like the sweet spot for general manager Brian Gutekunst and co., and where they would rightfully feel comfortable taking a chance.

Speaking of sweet spots: The third round has been a goldmine for the tight end position in the last 15 years, as mentioned above, but it has been all but for the Packers in recent memory. Their most impactful third-rounders taken in the last decade were safety Morgan Burnett and edge rusher Kyler Fackrell, who didn't begin producing until his third season.

Everything is seemingly shaping up for the Packers to let their desire soar with this class' biggest play-making tight ends. 

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Zachary Jacobson is a staff writer/reporter for Cheesehead TV. He's the voice of The Leap on iTunes and can be heard on The Scoop KLGR 1490 AM every Saturday morning. He's also a contributor on the Pack-A-Day Podcast. He can be found on Twitter via @ZachAJacobson or contacted through email at [email protected].

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Comments (46)

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Lphill's picture

February 25, 2019 at 05:47 am

I don’t think the 3 mentioned will last until round 3 , Packers probably trade back to pick up another pick then go edge, tight end then best safety round 2 if so that’s a great draft already.

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Old School's picture

February 25, 2019 at 10:32 am

I'm going to disagree with the author here.

By my count, since 2010, only EIGHT TEs have been drafted in the first round. One, Brandon Pettigrew, is out of the league. Hayden Hurst was taken at #25 last year. The previous year, 3 TEs were taken in the first round...Howard, Engram, and Djoku.

Eric Ebylron was taken at #10, the only TE taken higher than #19 (Howard).

Meanwhile, over that same 10 year period of 2009-2018, who have been the top TEs?

Two third rounders, Jason Witten and Jimmy Graham. 2nd round pick Gronkowski. Undrafted Antonio Gates. Jared Cook, Delanie Walker, Zach Ertz.....none of them taken in the first round.

Travis Kelce? Jordan Reed? Kyle Rudolph? It seems to me that you are MORE likely to hit gold in the draft if you wait until AFTER the first round to take one.

Food for thought......

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Nick Perry's picture

February 25, 2019 at 05:51 am

My hope is the Packers land Hockenson, I mean I LOVE this kid. I don't believe he'll be there at #30 which would mean the Packers would have to take him at 12 and that's IF he's even there. I know that's too rich for some BUT if this kid knocks his combine out of the park then I say screw it, take him if he's there at #12. I think the chance of him being an actual "Blue Chip" type player is higher than Montez, Polite, Ferrell (the most common picks associated with GB) and I'd argue he'd make more of an impact overall to this TEAM than the others mentioned.

Want to run the ball? Imagine having this kid EVEN as a rookie next to Bulaga blocking for Jones. Imagine this kid in THIS offense which loves to feature the TE position. I understand the TE position is very difficult for a rookie to come in and make a difference in year one. But having him in 2020 WITH the progress of MVS and EBS by then could be magical.

After watching Andrew's "Film Review" of Hockenson and Fant I became sold on Hockenson. I don't really care where TE's were found in previous drafts or George Kittle was a 5th round pick. I care the Packers finally fix the TE position, especially since it's going to be THIS offense Rodgers plays in for the rest of his career. Getting a TE like Hockenson would be a hell of a start for the 2020 SB Trophy.

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The TKstinator's picture

February 25, 2019 at 07:16 am

If a guy is a generational talent, you take him.

Vikes had Chester Taylor (over 1,000 yards) when they took Adrian Peterson.
GB had Favre when they took Rodgers.

It’s all about value, not necessarily need.

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dobber's picture

February 25, 2019 at 08:31 am

Get this man a mead!

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Bearmeat's picture

February 25, 2019 at 08:42 am

Maybe. IF he's the right guy. IF.

What you have to compare if you're Gute and the scouts, is not how good Hockenson or Fant or Smith is, but how much they could help you compared to another 1st round prospect.

I want a TE. But personally, I think we desperately need TWO OLBs. If we don't get a starter in free agency, I'd like to see us double dip on the front 7 in round 1.

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stockholder's picture

February 25, 2019 at 09:50 am

You raised a good question. The Tes are getting better every year. If we are to judge Lefluer, and his offensive schemes. He should use the same players MM had too. MM had to deal with regression, and insubordination. Lefleur won't. You don't draft Tes untill you see what he can do (IMO). Also put it right on Gute and Murphy. The defense has been better under pettine. It still needs the right players for the future. Wilkerson and T.Williams aren't the answer there. Perry and Daniels will be gone next year. And what about CM3? The answer is not at Te. Drafting the wrong position will push this team back. Sherman couldn't change the packers with FA's. It took Raji and Pickett, Mathews ,Hawk, Bishop, Woodson and Collins. Without them, there would have been No Trophy in 2010. The defense should be the focus of this draft. TE is a distraction.

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Coldworld's picture

February 26, 2019 at 05:16 am

Absolutely agree. TEs are seldom game breakers. Even assuming one struck a generational player, will a TE carry a team with a suspect rush, O line and safety position? I would say no.

Indeed for me the whole TE position discussion is something of a chimera. The TE role in GB has become portrayed as a way to unlock a stuttering offense despite a great QB. In my view the TE role became a smokescreen for an offensive design and set of player expectations that had lost their way.

If we have good receivers and an effective running game, the TE can be used in a way that suits larger bodied big catchers without the need to have generational athletes. Moreover, playing TEs (or catching FBs) increases high percentage play options and allows deep threat TE plays to be an exception surprise option.

We don’t need a first or second round TE. We need a scheme that doesn’t rely on pretending every GB player is bigger, faster and more athletic than their opponent and that enables us to do multiple things from each formation credibly.

Use TEs for what they are built for and I think we can focus on taking a player to groom for 2020 and expend our draft and free agent capital to cover areas of real need. In doing so we blow away the late MM era smokescreen of TE being the piece needed to magically fix the offense: it is clear that Superman at TE would not have been able to overcome the flawed thinking and predictability.

If there is a player that plausibly could be expected to be a generational talent, you take them regardless of position. These are truly rare however, and typically are near household names by this point based on college performance (though many such have proved to be false hopes). The temptation to see good as great in February is strong. The temptation to conflate potential with early performance is equally a major pitfall. Personally, I see no such player. Moreover, more than ten other teams would have to overlook this behemoth for us to get him.

Sorry, I could be wrong, but I don’t see a truly generational prospect. The good news is we don’t need one if we get back to using what we have in a scheme effective in the modern era. Protect Rodgers, take pressure off the secondary and keep opposing defenders guessing. Do that and a TE might become a star.

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dobber's picture

February 25, 2019 at 10:27 am

It surprises me how many of the same people who say "no, won't develop fast enough" to an early round WR are all about forcing the issue on a first round TE who aren't likely to be much of a blocker.

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stockholder's picture

February 25, 2019 at 10:45 am

Ok Lets take Hoek @12. I've seen mocks say #30. Thats not Blue chip. @12 Kiper has Wr. Ok we now need a slot when Cobb was injured? There is No WR that fits @12. Brown FA? Just NO? I remember John Jefferson! Trade down for Hoek ? - No You'll miss Defense. Seems were worried about getting Rodgers to the Hall of Fame. Everybody agrees RG will help Rodgers more. J. Williams should be the pick. He was considered the blue chip. But he's a IOL which TT got later. And really shouldn't make it to 12. OK -We started this love affair for Hoek. Are minds are made up. Money can repair and change anything. Take Hoek. A 1 year wonder on Tape. = Where is the improvement when Graham starts and Hoek sits the Bench?

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TheBigCheeze's picture

February 25, 2019 at 02:48 pm

...who the heck is Hoek?.....I would think that the shortened version of Hockenson would be "Hock".....

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The TKstinator's picture

February 25, 2019 at 10:42 am

“IF” is definitely a good word.

IF the TE is the next Gronkowski, and IF that OLB is the next Nick Perry...

Or

IF the TE is the next Ed West and the OLB is the next Lawrence Taylor...

But what IF it’s Gronkowski vs Taylor?

The draft is all about projections, therefore it is riddled with “ifs”.

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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

February 25, 2019 at 10:32 am

Nick,
Those video's were pretty compelling and I certainly get the excitement over the Iowa TE'S. Question I would have about Hockenson was his blocking consistently that good or was the blocking video's cherry picked out of a whole season?

There are so many exciting players in the draft it is way too easy to get caught up on one particular player especially a player in a skilled splash position. My eyes are getting crossed eyes with all the options at 12 and 30. I have decided as long as the Pack drafts the very best player available rather than reaching for a player at a position I am fine. Often it is hard to get excited about big bodies on the lines but if they are the best available player regardless of position than I am all in.

However, after watching Hockingson it is hard not to be excited about him. GB has routinely not thrown to a TE very often in a game. Therefore, my question is with blocking aside how many pass attempts to the TE drafted at #12 justified a pick this high? To me a minimum of 8 per game. Your thoughts?

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Nick Perry's picture

February 26, 2019 at 06:51 am

That's a very good point my friend BUT didn't it seem this kid LOVES to not only get his blocked but to drive him several yards downfield until that defensive player is on his ass?

Now I understand there would be far fewer pancake blocks in the NFL, but just the tenacity this kid blocks with tells me one thing...He LOVES to block. If I can land a TE who actually loves to block and can catch and run like Hockenson give me two.

To answer your question I guess it would depend on the opponent. But I would imagine even a team like Chicago with a fast, quick ILB like Smith would have problems with Hockenson. There's also the thought the Packers would run the ball more in this offense. A blocking TE like Hock could help take this run offense to the next level. If Jones and the rest of the Packers RB suddenly are averaging 135 YPG because they finally have a TE who can seal the edge, I'd be happy if he was getting say 6 attempts a game to start.

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packerbackerjim's picture

February 25, 2019 at 11:25 am

I vehemently agree on Hock. I remember Parcells using Bavaro to keep the ball away from Buffalo in the SB. More recently I vividly recall Dallas using Witten to pummel our defense. Sometimes the best defense is a good offense. This is not to say Edge is to be ignored; I’m hopeful Gute will target one in FA even if it was the lone signing besides Breeland.

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jannes bjornson's picture

February 25, 2019 at 03:58 pm

I seem to recall Gronk setting up the latest Patriot SB win with clutch catches in the fourth quarter and OT.

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The TKstinator's picture

February 26, 2019 at 10:02 pm

“Vehemently agree”: awesome!

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Doug Niemczynski's picture

February 25, 2019 at 01:50 pm

Hey, how come you get 5 thumbs up.

TJ Hockenson is my idea!!
1st round pick and Packers Fans will love this kid for a decade!!!

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crayzpackfan's picture

February 25, 2019 at 10:48 pm

I could not have said it any better. Put him in on two TE formations and just ask him to block his first year. Then in year two fill his plate. He’s a high character kid with all the messurables. Enough with overpaying that position with guys from the geriatric ward. I just don’t see a game changer at 12 for an edge rusher.

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EddieLeeIvory's picture

February 25, 2019 at 06:02 am

Despite the attitude deficiencies, Jermichael Finley was a hit.

Any questions about that, rewatch the film of that 2009 offense coming down the stretch. Ask the Bears defense. He had a hat trick one game in Chicago.

The 2011 playoff shocking loss to the Giants, their #1 focus all week was on dropping #88.

That was a bad injury, like to Nick Collins.
Two great picks.

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Mike Wendlandt's picture

February 25, 2019 at 11:38 am

I remember being at that hat trick game for Finley. Christmas Day 2011. It was my first regular season game at Lambeau. Jermichael was a man among boys that night. It also included the lasting laughing moment of my football life watching Josh McCown try to dunk on the crossbar.

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Coldworld's picture

February 26, 2019 at 05:21 am

Lol, through no fault of his, Finley started MM down the road of the TE savior. Finley has the potential to be great, but he often left us fuming, dropped catches and did so surrounded by 3 really good WRs. One could argue that he was the luxury and that they were the staples.

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stockholder's picture

February 25, 2019 at 06:04 am

Drafting a Te is such a great idea. The problem is we need Defense. If Gute can sign Smith, Thomas , Collins, and a RG, Draft Two. Not just Hoek, but Sternberger too. And lets get a new slot WR. But He won't! The defense needs much more. And in a defensive draft you want the best players. The patriots and Rams both had offense. But the defense came up big.

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CAG123's picture

February 25, 2019 at 09:54 am

Wow that may be a bit much two top flight safeties? I think the Packers should solidify one position and draft the other so if they sign Thomas they should get their SS in the draft. Also be on the look out for Justin Houston he could be a cap casualty. One of those two safeties, Houston, and a good RG good do wonders for this roster.

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stockholder's picture

February 25, 2019 at 10:16 am

I see him signing a Rg more then safety. The safety position is bad. Either they tackle or not, can't Play man, don't have the speed. They all have flaws. So do you want one that can tackle, play coverage, lets Wrs get behind them, Play zone, Past injury?

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CAG123's picture

February 25, 2019 at 11:57 am

Well Thomas can play single high and Collins is a inbox safety that can cover TEs either one of these 2 is an upgrade from what the Packers currently employ. The problem is finding that guy in the draft the will really translate to the NFL they all have question marks Thompson really got exposed the past 3-4 games, Nassir’s level of competition, and my favorite Amani Hooker doesn’t really seem that athletic but Iowa does seem to produce DBs that aren’t the best athletically but have high football IQ (Desmond King, Micah Hyde) could Josh Jackson be next?

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Old School's picture

February 25, 2019 at 10:44 am

If the defense improves by 60 points it'll be a Top 10 defense; if the offense improves by 60 points, it'll be in the Top 4.

What do we really need on defense?

We keep 5 or 6 DL on the 53 man roster. Currently, we have Daniels, Clark, Lowry, Adams, and Lancaster. Wilkerson apparently wants another shot.

At ILB, we have Blake Martinez and Oren Burks. We usually keep 4 on the 53 man roster and activate 3 on gameday. We could bring back Ryan at a minimum deal. We've got some other guys. We only play two ILBs in the base and as soon as we go to the nickel we've got one guy there. IF we could get a kick-ass interior defender who can play three downs, it'd surely make us better and deeper.

At OLB, we have Fackrell and Perry as the starters. We can resign Gilbert for a vet minimum type deal. So we need one OLB to be active on gameday and another on the 53 man roster .

We have King, Alexander, Jackson and Brown at the corner. IF we fixed the safety spot, we could move Tramon back to corner and that would give us the 5 corners we have on the gameday roster. We could use one more on the 53, but inactive, and another on the practice squad.

And at safety, we usually have 5 on the 53, activate 4 on gameday. I think we need two FAs AND a premium draft pick here.

So by my count, we'd get two safeties in FA, we'd like to add an OLB in the draft. We have room for an interior defender.

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CAG123's picture

February 25, 2019 at 12:38 pm

Well can they really count Fackrell and Perry? Perry should either get cut or restructured but neither is starter material I mean KF sacks look good until you see 6 came against Buffalo and Seattle. Jake Ryan can really go he’s pretty much just a guy another one of TTs bad ILB picks.

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Coldworld's picture

February 26, 2019 at 05:25 am

There is no outside pass rusher in GB who can be counted on to start. Perry is an injury risk and Fackrell is at best the definition of a situational rusher: look at his lack of pressures! Over a season, pressure is critical to disrupting the opponent’s rhythm on offense. Look at how bad offenses were able to appear so comfortable so often when playing us.

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Doug Niemczynski's picture

February 25, 2019 at 06:58 pm

Finley had all the physical tool and run routes ok....but his 3rd down dropped balls constantly KILLED our offensivw drives. I give Finley 3 our of 5 stars and even that is being toooo generous.

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Coldworld's picture

February 26, 2019 at 05:30 am

Memories are short and the tendency to remember the good and not the bad is strong. Would I take A Finley again, sure, but not in round one or two and not as a priority to get us back to the Super Bowl. Finley was a player that, when injury ended his career, had the potential to be great. He never had the chance to show whether he would have made the leap. We talk about him as if he had though. He wasn’t the reason we won the Super Bowl folks.

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carlos's picture

February 25, 2019 at 07:44 am

I wouldn’t keep any of our TE’s except Boyd. Hockenson would be great. Love the school he comes from. Iowa. More of a Green Bay type area. I think he’d be a good fit, but I think the Lions will pick him ahead of the Packers.

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dobber's picture

February 25, 2019 at 08:34 am

More power to them!

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dobber's picture

February 25, 2019 at 08:34 am

Sign a dual-purpose TE with blocking chops, and then let the draft fall to you. If a Fant or Hockenson or someone else they really like shows up around #30, great. Too many holes to force the issue, and unlikely to get equal value out of a TE (compared to other players available) at #12.

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CheesyTex's picture

February 25, 2019 at 10:07 am

Nice take, dobber.

"Too many holes". Amen!

Gute has his work cut out this year. Hope against hope he sticks to low to mid-level free agents for the holes and drafts for long-term value.

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carlos's picture

February 25, 2019 at 10:51 am

It’s almost impossible to fill all the holes on the Packers in one year. Most teams also have many holes and injuries deplete teams even more. That’s where decent depth and teaching and coaching up come into the picture. That’s why I like the energy of this new staff. Of course, the verdict is still out there. Need a good draft to add some core players to this team.

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Old School's picture

February 25, 2019 at 10:57 am

I think we should be looking harder at the guys after the top couple. History shows that TEs taken after the first round actually outperform the guys taken in the first round.

IMO, we could trade down from #12 to #21 and get another pick at #55, and we could move down from #30 to around #37 and get another pick at the beginning of the 4th round. That would give us a pick at #21, three in the second (#37, #44, #55) a pick in the third and three picks right away on the last day for a total of 8 picks in the first 112 and 4 picks in the first 55.

I'd use those first four for a TE, an OT, a Safety and a Front 7 defender. No particular order.

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stockholder's picture

February 25, 2019 at 11:09 am

The saints paid more @12 to 21. should be more then a #55. 21 is to far down. But the draft Network did work out a good scenario. Just the players taken are terrible. They did a great job after the top 3 picks. @12 has to be DL for Wilkerson. People aren't looking at next years roster. Lets start. Daniels, FA. Wilkerson if signed a year FA, Perry FA, T.Williams FA. Martinez, Balaga.etc. These guys will want money. And it will get used up this year.

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Old School's picture

February 25, 2019 at 01:10 pm

The Saints did pay more. They overvalued. But the trade value chart has #12 equaling #21 and #55-ish. Obviously, if somebody really wants #12, they might give us more.

I'm not sure about the DL at #12. We have 5 pretty good guys already and that's all we have active. I know that Lowry and Daniels are in their contract years. I'm not opposed to a premium pick on DL, I'm just not sure it has to be a first rounder.

I like the DE from Notre Dame and I'll be watching him closely until draft day. I like the tall guys. I think we're headed in the right direction with these 6'5" inch and up guys like Lowry and Fackrell.

Of next year's FAs, I'd submit that Bulaga and Williams and Perry will all be replaced. Wilkerson won't be in the picture. We'll probably manage to resign either Lowry or Daniels.

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Doug Niemczynski's picture

February 25, 2019 at 01:56 pm

Let's stop screwing around with all these 4th and 5th ound TEs that never pan out. Draft Hockenson and you don't have to worry about the TE position again.

Packers suck at picking LB and got lucky with C . Matthews.

And, when the could have drafted TJ Watt LB. We went with a CB Kevin King

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Doug Niemczynski's picture

February 25, 2019 at 02:04 pm

And let's nor forget about getting slot WR Andy Isabella!

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CheesyTex's picture

February 25, 2019 at 02:47 pm

Hope Packers get him -- on day 3 of the Draft.

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CheesyTex's picture

February 25, 2019 at 02:47 pm

Hope Packers get him -- on day 3 of the Draft.

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DD's picture

February 26, 2019 at 10:41 am

A tough, quick slot would be great!

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sam1's picture

February 25, 2019 at 06:08 pm

Sure a lot of folks who know who to draft where! I don't and will sit back and watch!

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DD's picture

February 26, 2019 at 10:40 am

No TE at 12!!

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