Sternberger Aims to Stop Packers Tight End Parade

His breakout is critical to Green Bay plan.

By the end of the 2011 NFL season Jermichael Finley appeared headed for greatness. The 4th year tight end had just completed a breakout season by catching 55 passes for 767 yards and 8 touchdowns in helping the Green Bay Packers to a 15-1 regular season.   With prototypical size and athleticism, Finley was poised to join the list of the great Packer tight ends of the modern era, a list that included names like Ron Kramer, Marv Fleming, Paul Coffman, Mark Chmura and Keith Jackson.

But as is so often the case in the NFL, an injury changed his destiny. Playing in a contract year in 2013, Finley suffered a spinal cord injury in week seven that would end his career.   It happened after catching a pass against the Cleveland Browns  and then plunging into a horrifying helmet to helmet collision with safety Tashaun Gipson. Finley would recover from temporary paralysis but would never play another down in the NFL.

Seven years later the Packers have still not effectively replaced him. Since Finley's departure, Green Bay has gone through a parade of tight ends either past their prime or incapable of entering it. The list includes Richard Rogers, Jared Cook, Martellus Bennett, Jimmy Graham,  Lance Kendricks, Robert Tonyan and Marcedes Lewis.

Now as we cautiously approach the 2020 season the hopes of Packer Nation rest on second year player Jace Sternberger. It's hard not to notice the similarities between Finley and Sternberger. Finley was 6-4, 243 lbs. Sternberger is 6-4, 251. Finley ran 4.81 at the combine, Sternberger ran 4.75. Both were star basketball players in high school and learned to use their bodies to win contested throws. Both came out early and both were drafted in the third round. Both have a reputation for winning jump balls and being effective at yards after catch. Both played college ball in the state of Texas.

Of course, this could all be coincidence, but Packer coaches are finding it hard to hide their enthusiasm for Sternberger's prospects this season. With the departure of Graham, the door is open for the Oklahoma native to take over. Unfortunately, there is another similarity with Finley's career. Sternberger has already been dealing with the injury bug. He played in just one preseason game in 2019 before an ankle injury landed him on injured reserve. He was activated on November 2nd, did not catch a pass in the regular season, but in the playoffs caught three balls for 15 yards and a touchdown.

Green Bay is hoping this year they see the tight end who  dominated the Southeastern Conference at Texas A&M in 2018.   That year Sternberger reeled in 48 throws for 832 yards and 10 touchdowns. The ten scores tied a school record and the yardage ranked second nationally. Sternberger was originally projected as a possible late first round or second round pick, but had what was perceived as a poor workout at the combine. His stock dropped precipitously but Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst, in search of some sort of stability at the position, jumped on him in the third round.

Despite the combine numbers, the scout comments on Sternberger were mostly glowing. The summaries were loaded with remarks like "excellent route runner", "built like a wide receiver", "can play slot or in-line", "makes defenders miss". The only negative comments had to do with run blocking and some who labeled him as a one year wonder because, as a junior college transfer, he played just one breakout season at the major college level. Ironically, in his limited play with the Packers last season, Sternberger's blocking was an unexpected bright spot, indicating he has worked hard on that aspect and has improved.

Now he's looking forward to building that elusive "trust" and relationship with quarterback Aaron Rodgers.  Jace recently tweeted that Rodgers "is always pushing us to learn more" and "demands perfection."  He told The Athletic  that Rodgers "is pretty hard on me, so I hope he's trying to make me better because I'm tryi ng to be great."

He certainly has the DNA. Both of his parents were college athletes. In high school he was athletic enough and savvy enough to play quarterback, but was shifted to tight end after an injury. He originally signed with Kansas, a school that simply did not use tight ends to catch passes. After languishing with the Jayhawks for two seasons, Sternberger transferred to a junior college, and then was heavily recruited by coach Jimbo Fisher at Florida State. When Fisher moved to Texas A&M, Sternberger followed him there and went on to one of the great tight end campaigns in school annals. After 2018 he decided to forego his last year of eligibility and turn pro.

Coach Matt LaFleur told Packers.com "Here's what I love about Jace Sternberger: I know the game's not too big for him. He loves to compete and he's so versatile, whether it's in-line, or it's moving into an H-back, fullback type position. The guy has contact courage. He's not afraid to put his face on people. He's a much better blocker than anyone ever thought he was coming out of Texas A&M. I'm just excited for his future."

So are Packer fans. Let's hope this is the end of the parade.

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Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.

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Comments (55)

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PhantomII's picture

July 19, 2020 at 07:16 pm

If you watch his A&M highlights he shows as the real deal. I thought he could start as a rookie but got hurt early. He runs smooth routes. If he can stay on the field healthy he is going to surprise a lot of Defenses. Looking forward to this young guy be productive this year.

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Tundraboy's picture

July 21, 2020 at 09:58 pm

Me too.

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Bure9620's picture

July 19, 2020 at 08:52 pm

Pretty pumped about this kid. He was borderline dominant at times in college. I really think his run after catch is underratted. Showed last year he can block. Hope he pans out...

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Slim11's picture

July 20, 2020 at 11:33 am

His college numbers were good and those were coming from a so-so QB, Kellen Mond. I look forward to the season he can put together catching balls from Aaron Rodgers.

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flackcatcher's picture

July 19, 2020 at 10:25 pm

Are you sure that's not Jordy Nelson... :-)

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Stroh's picture

July 20, 2020 at 11:55 am

I've never heard of Sternberger as any sort of hoops player. I'm sure he played in HS, but that's a far cry from Finley who had a Basketball scholarship on the table fron National powerhouse U of Arizona, before choosing football at U of Texas.

I honestly don't see similarities in their games. Finley was masterful playing above the rim and posting up on smaller DBs, while Sternberger seems to do all his damage on the ground, route running and such.

That said, I definitely think Sternberger is headed for a big season. Even a strong chance he'll eclipse Finley's production, Finley tho had a higher ceiling in terms of potential.

A shame we never got to really see Finley at his very best. His career was cut short just as he was hitting his peak development.

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Jonathan Spader's picture

July 20, 2020 at 09:03 am

In what way did Finley have a heigher ceiling? Finley constantly deopped passes looking to run before he caught the ball. Sternberger is heavier and faster than Finley. He's more gifted athletically than Finley which means he has a higher ceiling.

I agree that it sucks Finley's career was cut short by an unfortunate injury. I hope his quality of life after football has been good. When he did catch the ball it was awesome seeing his run after the catch. I hope to see similar elusiveness and better blocking from Sternberger. Took 4 years to see the production from Finley except Sternberger to take time to develop as well TE is a tough transition.

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Stroh's picture

July 20, 2020 at 11:51 am

The dropped passes were behind him, just like Adams were behind him bt yr 3. Route running can be learned and Finley had the ability to play above the rim and run after catch, that Sternberger just doesn't have. If you looked at the way they moved and not just the testing numbers you would see Finley was far more fluid and natural athlete. Sternberger has the edge in toughness and savy as a player, but from an athletic standpoint Finley was superior and its not particularly close. I have a fundamental knowledge of athletes being I have a degree in Ex Physiology and was a strength coach and personal trainer for close to 20 yrs.

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13TimeChamps's picture

July 20, 2020 at 12:02 pm

"The dropped passes were behind him"

Ummm....no they weren't. I can't tell you how many times Finley had the ball hit him in the hands while he was wide open in the middle of the field and he dropped it. And this wasn't a one year thing like it was with James Jones. If it wasn't for all the dropped passes throughout his career, his numbers would have been significantly better.

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Stroh's picture

July 20, 2020 at 12:14 pm

Just stop it already. Your embarrassing yourself! It took him a couple years but he wasn't dropping passes toward the end of his career, Yeah no doubt early he did. He put that behind him and much like Adams by yr 4-6 he wasn't dropping passes.

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13TimeChamps's picture

July 20, 2020 at 12:22 pm

I was responding to your incorrect assumption that the passes he dropped were "behind him". Some were...most weren't.

And I stand by my statement that dropped passes were an issue with him throughout his career. Like many on here, I watched pretty much every game he played. I may not be a personal trainer, but I'm pretty sure I know what a dropped pass is.

Have a lovely watered down Stroh's and chill, my friend.

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AmericanJackal's picture

July 20, 2020 at 06:20 pm

Real nice Boomer

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13TimeChamps's picture

July 20, 2020 at 06:37 pm

Oh goodie, the American Jackass is back.

Do you EVER have anything to contribute to these conversations, other than focusing on people's age? Did some old guy kick your ass one day and you just haven't been able to let it go? Maybe therapy might help. With a non-boomer therapist of course. Good luck on your recovery.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

July 21, 2020 at 03:05 am

Heck, Adams' hands are so-so, including in 2019 when he had a 7.7% drop rate. Not terrible but not good. Adams was better in 2018 with a 4.3% drop rate, which I'd say is good. I agree that Finley also reached so-so status later in his career.

https://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/A/AdamDa01.htm

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Oppy's picture

July 22, 2020 at 05:14 pm

It wasn't just a one year thing with JJ either.

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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

July 19, 2020 at 11:08 pm

Finley was a great potential but emotionally immature. Was hard to read his quotes and articles about him. Finely represents the past.

Jace is NOW and I think we may have a good one in the making if he stays healthy.

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Stroh's picture

July 20, 2020 at 11:59 am

Yeah he was barely 20 yrs old when he was drafted. He was immature. By his 3rd season that was behind him.

I agree about Sternberger and as i said earlier in th thread I think he'll surpass Finley's production, possibly as soon as this season.

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Oppy's picture

July 22, 2020 at 05:15 pm

Finley is STILL immature. I don't think that will ever be fully behind him.

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Tundraboy's picture

July 21, 2020 at 10:00 pm

Here's for the now. I have a great feeling about this season. If it all plays out.

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PeteK's picture

July 20, 2020 at 07:58 am

Also, Finley was a bull fighter on running plays. I was surprised and impressed when I saw Sternberger in the playoffs sticking his head into one of the best defensive players. He is one of the keys to our offense's improvement because his play could affect the passing and running game.

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Stroh's picture

July 20, 2020 at 12:02 pm

Finleys blocking was poor early in his career, he made great strides and was a good blocker toward the end. He was never going to be a great blocker by any stretch.

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Handsback's picture

July 20, 2020 at 08:33 am

Sternberger will be a great TE. Watching him in college and the little bit last year, you see something that's lacking in many TEs...toughness. Kittle is the prime example. He's relentless in his blocking and makes the effort to be in the right spot for his QB.
Jace goes after anyone when he's blocking and big enough to pack a punch. The question of his receiver skills were answered at A&M. Now the question is how long will it take for him and AR to get on the same page. I think pretty quickly, and he becomes that safety valve receiver that he hasn't had since Cobb.

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Stroh's picture

July 20, 2020 at 12:05 pm

We can only hope Sternberger has a bit of Kittle in him. But Kittle has it in spades. Sternberger showed a bit of it, but its only brief glimpses. He's got a long way to go before hecan even be compared to Kittle.

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dobber's picture

July 20, 2020 at 08:51 am

"Unfortunately, there is another similarity with Finley's career. Sternberger has already been dealing with the injury bug. "

It's a little early to draw in phrasing like this, which many will infer as saying he's snakebit. Yes, Sternberger had a bad break in 2019, but he doesn't have a track record of injury through college. With Graham, Lewis, and Tonyan, they didn't need to keep Sternberger active to heal. My relatively uninformed guess (given that he was activated off IR about as soon as he could be) is that if that same injury happened this season, he wouldn't be placed on IR. Finley on the other hand only played 16 games twice in his 6 seasons. He regularly had nagging injuries (and a couple pretty significant ones). I seem to remember people questioning his toughness (and maturity) on a regular basis.

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Stroh's picture

July 20, 2020 at 12:11 pm

Finley was barely 20 yrs old when he was drafted. Sometimes maturity comes w/ age. At the end of his career he was much more mature. He wasn't overly tough or physical. Of course Sternberger needs to improve in that dept as well. Most players entering the NFL have to improve toughness and physicality when they enter the league.

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Samson's picture

July 20, 2020 at 12:32 pm

You are really a Finley Fan!
So was I.... He had his flaws but he also dictated opposing defenses to game plan around him... He opened up the field for all the WRs (and vice-versa). --- It's a shame his career ended too early.

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Stroh's picture

July 20, 2020 at 05:52 pm

Yeah, I was a fan of Finley. And your right, he did dictate to defenses and forced them to cover him differently which opened the field. LB couldn't hang with him and Safeties and CB couldn't handle his size and ability to use his body.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

July 21, 2020 at 03:08 am

Agreed. It would be nice if Sternberger could force defenses to expend resources on him. Hope he can. Some of the film gurus showed Sternberger running free but he wasn't one of the top options on those plays.

Anyway, I like Sternberger and have fingers crossed.

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Tundraboy's picture

July 21, 2020 at 10:03 pm

And you are right. I cringed at the comparison.

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Oppy's picture

July 22, 2020 at 05:18 pm

"the injury bug", or being "injury prone", are probably the most over-used and incorrectly applied sports terms by fans.

It's football. People get injured. That's what happens.

A guy has two unrelated injuries during a 3 year span, and he's "injury prone" to half of the fan base. It's ridiculous.

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paultribbiani's picture

July 20, 2020 at 09:11 am

Awesome! Found news about that in here bro: https://www.raiderladies.com/fantasy-football/

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Leatherhead's picture

July 20, 2020 at 11:00 am

The parade........

By receptions, 5 of the best seasons for Packer TEs have occurred during the past 9 years. Finley, Rodgers, and Graham. And we’ve trashed them all.

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13TimeChamps's picture

July 20, 2020 at 11:33 am

Of course, rules in place during that time, that greatly helped the passing game, had nothing to do with that I guess.

Please tell me you're not suggesting that an over-the-hill Jimmy Graham and a slow, plodding Richard Rodgers are examples of the "best" Packers TEs.

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Leatherhead's picture

July 20, 2020 at 11:49 am

I liked Paul Coffman. Just pointing out the FACT that Graham, and Rodgers, had two of the best receiving seasons in our history for TEs. I’m sorry if that fact doesn’t fit your narrative.

Personally, I’m happy with guys like Ed West and Bubba Franks because they can get their man blocked.

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13TimeChamps's picture

July 20, 2020 at 11:54 am

I never said it wasn't a fact. I was just pointing out another FACT that rules in place during that time affected those numbers.

Sorry if that fact doesn't fit your narrative.

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Leatherhead's picture

July 20, 2020 at 11:57 am

What rule changes are you talking about?

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13TimeChamps's picture

July 20, 2020 at 12:15 pm

Ok, now you're just intentionally playing dumb, possibly just to be argumentative.

You're too savvy of a football fan to not realize officiating in the NFL over the last 15-20 years or so hasn't greatly contributed to the explosion of offense, at the expense of defense.

I'm not going to waste my time and google every rule change during that time frame to play this silly game with you.

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Samson's picture

July 20, 2020 at 12:35 pm

13TimeChamps
It's not intentional... it's natural.

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13TimeChamps's picture

July 20, 2020 at 12:45 pm

I will close this dialogue with this, if this helps you:

There have been 11 examples of QB's passing for at least 5,000 yards in a season in NFL history. Brees (5 times), Brady, Peyton, Stafford, Ben, Mahomes, and Marino all once.

10 of those seasons have come since 2008, 9 since 2011.

Are you seriously suggesting it's just coincidence that it's happened during the time frame YOU came up with as an example of the best yardage years for GB TE's?

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Leatherhead's picture

July 20, 2020 at 01:03 pm

You mentioned rule changes. What rule changes?

I think it’s more a function of offensive scheme. I’m still not aware of what rule change you are talking about.

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Oppy's picture

July 22, 2020 at 05:21 pm

pass interference rule changes would be the biggest culprit that have made the game innately more pass-friendly, but you have to know that already.

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murf7777's picture

July 27, 2020 at 11:37 am

Might add no longer touching receiver after 5 yards,,,,hmmm, how about not hitting the QB the same way as before or it's roughing and 15 yards....the list goes on and on that has benefited passing. Comparing numbers just doesn't tell the story accurately.

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Samson's picture

July 20, 2020 at 12:07 pm

13TimeChamps
Gotta watch out for those selective stats offered up by some here.
They don't appreciate the "whole picture" analysis approach.

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Leatherhead's picture

July 20, 2020 at 01:03 pm

Samson hates facts.

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PhantomII's picture

July 20, 2020 at 09:04 pm

I think the third one is a little "g" with a big $.

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dobber's picture

July 20, 2020 at 04:25 pm

It's stat-page watching: people want to see a guy they can compare with George Kittle or Travis Kelce or Rob Gronkowski. Nobody seems to be appeased by a Richard Rodgers (even when he catches 60 passes and 8 TDs).

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13TimeChamps's picture

July 20, 2020 at 04:52 pm

ONE decent year out of a six year career.
His totals for the other five years combined: 63 rec/5 TDs

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Leatherhead's picture

July 20, 2020 at 05:39 pm

Was that so hard to say? That Rodgers had a good year in 2015? Why didn’t you just say that instead of blathering about rule changes? Graham had a good 2018, too.

You illustrated my point perfectly. We trash guys who’ve had some of the best seasons in our history. Thank you.

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13TimeChamps's picture

July 20, 2020 at 06:07 pm

"Blathering"? Lol

My basic premise remains unchanged. Not that long ago defensive backs could totally mug receivers while running their routes. Now, after RULE CHANGES, defensive backs will get a penalty called on them for breathing too hard on a receiver. The same applies to QB's. Graze their helmet with a pinkie and roughing the passer is called. You actually don't believe these changes haven't affected passing/receiving yardage totals? No offense to Rodgers, but he wouldn't rank in anyone's top ten when it comes to GB TE's, even given his ONE top ten statistical season. It was skewed historically because of rule changes that greatly benefited offenses.

To be totally honest, I have no idea what your "point" was in the first place.

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Leatherhead's picture

July 20, 2020 at 06:33 pm

So are Aaron Rodgers stats skewed, too?

My point, which I think was pretty clearly stated, is that by receptions we’ve had some pretty good seasons out of our TEs during the parade. And that we trash the players who have done it......as you’ve done.

Rule changes have opened up the passing game, but that didn’t just happen in 2011. And when guys are 9th in the league, I don’t think it’s because the rule changes somehow helped them more than the other TEs in the league, I think it’s because they had a good year. It happens. Richard Rodgers has a good year and he’s trash, but Aaron Jones has a good year and we want to deify him. It’s silly.

Why is it so hard for some fans to acknowledge when a player has a good year? Blake Martinez leads the league in tackles and we trash him. Lazard has an exceptional rookie season and people want him replaced. Turner takes 99% of offensive snaps on one of the better offensive lines in the year and he’s a “weak link”.

I could go on. I trust I’ve made my point.

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13TimeChamps's picture

July 20, 2020 at 06:55 pm

Yes, of course Rodger's stats are skewed. Just like any QB's of this era. You really think Drew Brees would have passed for almost 80,000 yards and well over 500 TDs (and counting) if he played primarily in the 80's or 90's? Joe Montana, who many consider the greatest QB in history, ended up with barely 40,000 yards and 273 TDs after a 15 year HOF career. The obvious, primary reason? Rule changes that benefited offenses. I really don't understand what we're arguing about here.

I'm not sure when I trashed Richard Rodgers or Blake Martinez. Rodgers was a pedestrian one hit wonder, who benefited during a wide open passing era. Good for him.

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13TimeChamps's picture

July 20, 2020 at 07:16 pm

There is an old, wise saying.....pick your battles. I'm not sure why you picked this one.

Bottom line...if you want to throw a parade for Richard Rodgers and name a street after him in Green Bay after one decent season...and anything other than that is trashing him...so be it.

I'm ready to move on to other, more relevant, topics.

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Leatherhead's picture

July 20, 2020 at 07:24 pm

Because I don’t like people denigrating our players. That’s my point.

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PhantomII's picture

July 20, 2020 at 11:03 pm

graham was not paid 10 mill a year for those stats. He was paid it to get 7-10 TD's per year. He balled out and got 3 one year and 2 the next. In fairness ML asked more of him blocking than he was ever asked from any other coach because he is ONLY a receiving TE and ML tried to make him more than he is. R. Rodgers was never overpaid so I think he did the best he could with his God given talent and speed.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

July 21, 2020 at 03:20 am

RR and I should add James Jones were the only receivers without butterfingers that year.

Plenty of evidence of QBs forcing the ball to receivers, allowing them to have one decent season. 510 yards for a TE is decent but not really a good year.

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