Sternberger or Deguara: Which One Will Break Out?

Packers need production from this pair of third round picks. 

They were both drafted in the third round.  They have both had injury issues early in their pro careers.  They both watched somebody else emerge from their position group to have a breakout season.  Tight ends Jace Sternberger and Josiah Deguara find themselves in similar positions as the make-up of the 2021 Green Bay Packers is determined this summer.   

 

It’s pretty clear now that Robert Tonyan will be the main pass catcher.  Marcedes Lewis will be the inline blocker.  That means the role that is open is the versatile guy.  The player who can split out and run a wide receiver pattern, line up in the backfield as an H-back, or gang up in the trenches on short yardage.  Both Sternberger and Deguara are likely to make the team, but only one of them will get his number called often enough to break out.  There’s only one football out there.  Everybody can’t emerge.  There just aren’t enough opportunities. 

 

Sternberger has a one year edge in experience, although much of that is diluted because he has missed 14 of 32 regular season games.  He is a bit taller and a bit faster.  Sternberger stands 6’4” and 251, compared to Deguara’s 6’2” and 242.  Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst says he clocked Sternberger at 4.66 in the 40.  Deguara ran a 4.72 at the combine.  Sternberger was the more accomplished college player.  In 2018 he was regarded as one of the top tight ends in the nation at Texas A&M, grabbing 48 throws for 832 yards and ten scores.  He was named first team All American that year.  Deguara played at less prestigious Cincinnati and racked up 39 catches for 504 yards and 7 touchdowns in 2019. 

 

So at first glance it would appear Sternberger is the better prospect, right?  Not so fast.  Aaron Rodgers has been reluctant to throw the ball to him.  He has had some bad drops.  With the tight end position wide open last season, Sternberger was clearly outplayed by Tonyan.  Through his first two years in Green Bay Jace has caught just 12 passes for 114 yards and one score. Availability has been an issue. 

 

What must he do to take the next step?  “Wrapping his mind around the playbook” says tight end coach Justin Outten.  “Getting the techniques down, less thinking, playing faster, those are things he’s continuing to work on....He’s got his chances moving forward here like everybody else will and I’m just excited to see his progress.” 

 

Deguara is more versatile.  In fact, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett says it is his strong point.  “He’s a student of the game and being flexible in all of the things that he can do.  I mean, anytime you have a guy that can split out and run around, a guy that you can have in line and block like a tight end, and also put in the backfield and be a fullback, I think all of those things are so difficult for a defense to have a game plan against.”  

 

Maybe that’s why Deguara seemed to have an important role in the offensive plan right out of the gate as a rookie in last year’s season opener against the Vikings.  He immediately made an impressive splash when his block took out two Minnesota defenders at the same time, paving the way for Allen Lazard to gain 19 yards on an end around.   

 

But, as with Sternberger, injuries turned out the lights on his promising start.  He suffered a shin injury in that opening game, and then caught just one pass before being lost for the season in week two with a serious knee injury.  So serious in fact, that he’s still not back. During OTAs he works on rehab drills on the sideline with David Bakhtiari.  So he remains largely unproven.  Whether he can come back from that knee to take up where he left off is certainly not a given.   

 

Coach Outten, however, seems excited for his return.  “He has a really good feel for the offense right now.... His career is going to be a long one in this league.” 

 

The Matt LaFleur offense includes using multiple tight ends in certain packages, so both Sternberger and Deguara, if they can stay healthy, should see the field significantly more.  One of the interesting developments of the summer and early season will be seeing which of the two becomes more prominent.  For the Packers, it should be a good problem to have. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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 (35)

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NickPerry's picture

June 07, 2021 at 06:30 am

IMO Deguara is more of the Swiss Army Knife, more of the Kyle Juszczyk type player in this offense. Sternberger is going to be more of the receiving TE of the two, more like Big Bob Tonyon. This is a nice problem to have, especially with a guy like MLF designing plays for them.

Tonyon had a great season last year and hopefully continues to ascend. If he does it's entirely possible he prices himself out of the Packers ability to afford him in 2022, especially if Aaron Rodgers is still on the roster. If Sternberger breaks out and Deguara is the Kyle Juszczyk of the Packers, the Packers offense takes yet another jump, and gives them a TON of flexibility.

EDIT...Don't get me wrong, I'd love to keep Big Bob, but with the 2022 cap the way it is already, it's going to be a difficult task keeping everyone in 2022.

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Coldworld's picture

June 07, 2021 at 06:44 am

I agree, they are not directly comparable with respect to the roles that they play. Daffney and Deguara are in competition. Sternberger has to watch for Nuata if anyone, but mostly just show he can play and stay healthy. It’s going to be interesting to see how the final roster spots are allocated.

As to the cap next year, a lot will depend on how the current situation resolves itself as to whom we should and can keep.

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dobber's picture

June 07, 2021 at 08:38 am

My bet is that they extend Tonyan before Nov. 1 to try to get him cheaper than he'll be in February or March. It also will allow them to put some of his hit on 2021, and push it off 2022.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

June 08, 2021 at 04:41 am

I think GB wants an extension but I reached the opposite conclusion as to the timing. The extension is in December when the signing bonus does NOT count in 2021. Yeah, doesn't lower his AAV that way.

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Matt Gonzales's picture

June 07, 2021 at 08:40 am

Agreed - they both need to show they can stay on the field and produce when called upon, but they are radically different players who will play different roles in the offense.

I would love to see it all come together for Jace, though. He has the raw talent and the size to carve out a good NFL career. Hopefully it happens for us and not someone else.

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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

June 07, 2021 at 06:28 am

Both are good prospects and there is Dafney who was better than anticipated. Many interesting positions that will be very competitive this summer. Absolutely have to go watch camp.

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scoonie_penn's picture

June 07, 2021 at 06:52 am

Gute's 3rd Round picks

Oren Burks
Jace Sternberger
Josiah Deguara
Amari Rodgers

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Coldworld's picture

June 07, 2021 at 07:48 am

2 are exciting, one could be if he can stay healthy or could be on his way out if not and one hopefully gets beaten out unless he’s a revelation compared to prior years.

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PewAuKeeFan's picture

June 07, 2021 at 08:10 am

The first 3 are all similar in how they are more defined by injuries rather than their playing.

Hope that Amari breaks the trend!

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PeteK's picture

June 07, 2021 at 02:21 pm

He's due, 4th is the charm.

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HawkPacker's picture

June 07, 2021 at 07:08 am

Based on all the comments made from the FO after Deguara was drafted, IMHO Deguara will have the better season. Hi is so versatile, he will be involved in all facets of the game on offense. I can't wait to see him play. I was so disappointed seeing injured last year as there was a lot of hype about his play in this offense.

I don't have a problem with Sternberger and I am hoping he has a good year as well. If he does not, you have to wonder how much longer he will be around. It looks to me like they will have five TE's make the squad this year as they all have shown strengths in the offense.

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stockholder's picture

June 07, 2021 at 07:37 am

Neither will break out. But the more controversial the pick. The more coaching and chances. Based on that. Deguara has the edge. Regardless; it's wait your turn. Sternberger will be cut and it maybe his blessing in disguise for him.

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Packers0808's picture

June 07, 2021 at 07:51 am

It would seem that Deguara if can get and stay healthy will be the better player and the one to stick. It seems IF Rodgers comes back, he will not go to Sternberger on a trust basis! Me personally have more faith and hope in Deguara!

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HankScorpio's picture

June 07, 2021 at 08:02 am

Why do either of them have to break out? To me, that implies production that just is not necessary, or even available. Maybe I'm just quibbling over the definition of breaking out. If one or both can kick in 300-400 yards of total offense, I'd call that a big win but not a break out year. It is a useful tool for ML to use along with everything else.

You know Davante is going to produce when he's on the field. It would be nice to scale back his targets some, presuming other guys step up. I'm hoping the last 6-8 weeks of MVS is the one we get for all 17 (or more) games. That guy was a productive WR that could easily eclipse 1000 yard marker, especially with extra game. Then there is Lazard and Amari--who should be able to combine for 800 or more yards. I think Tonyan will increase his catch and yards rate. Aaron Jones will get his touches in run and pass games. You'd hope Dillon will as well.

As the article notes, there is only one football. So how much room is left for either of them?

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Slim11's picture

June 07, 2021 at 08:32 am

I was concerned Sternberger was a flash-in-the-pan based upon his one season at TX A&M. This observation may prove to be accurate. Deguara seems the more versatile of the two. I expect this could be Sternberger's last chance in GB.

Like Bahktiari, his injury was unfortunate but timing is the key here. Deguara was injured in September and had most of the 2020 regular season to rehab. Bahktiari was injured toward the end and hasn't enjoyed the amount of time Deguara has with respect to his own rehab. I won't be surprised if Deguara is ready opening day because of the longer rehab time available to him.

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Turophile's picture

June 07, 2021 at 08:33 am

Either, neither, both.
Could be any of those. Unfortunately this is a time of year when there is too little news, so speculation stuff like this comes out. Not ragging on CHTV very much though, because how much IS there to report about, right now.

Can't wait for training camp and preseason, when there is more stuff with substance.

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LambeauPlain's picture

June 07, 2021 at 08:35 am

On paper Deguara would seem to have more opportunities. Depends on how the season goes and who does more during their snaps.

Of course, if Big Bob gets dinged (hope not!), that opens the door for Sternberger...and maybe we see the two of them in multiple sets.

Both men are faster than Funchess, the former Michigan TE who also has an injury history. I could see as many TEs on the final raster as WRs, simply because Matt uses them so much in a variety of plays.

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dobber's picture

June 07, 2021 at 09:03 am

Let's be fair: Dafney didn't attend the combine and he ran a 4.61 at his pro day. Funchess' 40 time at the Combine was uninspiring, but about the same as Deguara. Funchess ran in the 4.5s at his Pro Day (one report was 4.48), but Deguara didn't run at his pro day (which means he was happy with is 4.72). Funchess is faster than we give him credit for, but speed isn't his game. He brings the size numbers the Packers want at that position.

I don't fault Funchess for his collarbone injury in IND, and that's not something likely to persist...otherwise, he's been pretty durable and available. It was his right to choose not to play in 2020.

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Coldworld's picture

June 07, 2021 at 06:04 pm

It’s odd how much rubbish has been said about Funchess in the last couple of years. I guess it’s just easy to seize on a simple stat without having watched him. Is he Jerry Rice, no, but he isn’t the guy many seem to think by a country mile either.

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jont's picture

June 07, 2021 at 09:07 am

The upside here is really up. Neither has to have a 'break out season' for the O to roll.
Just imagine Sternberger and Deguara staying healthy and improved as expected over their previous showings and Tonyan just being his usual very good self. This would be three TEs who can move, block, run, and catch.
Picture it: Extra TEs in there, obvious running situation, D stacks the box, and they split out to join Devante into four WR positions. 2 out of 3 TEs are being chased by ILBs. Whoever's playing QB has targets.

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Coldworld's picture

June 07, 2021 at 09:23 am

I’m interested to see the H or F Back role fully implemented and how that contributes to the overall system player usage and mix. I believe, health aside, Degura has a better chance of regular snaps.

I just hope Sternberger can stay healthy and give us a reason to have to think about activating him over someone like Daffney, who plays STs well. I think Sternberger needs a protracted healthy period to settle into his role this off season.

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Ferrari-Driver's picture

June 07, 2021 at 11:17 am

I'm excited to see both of them surprise and play well in entirely different capacities. I can see Sternberger playing like Greg Olsen and perhaps perform in a similar fashion to Robert Tonyon. If Tonyon outplays the ability of the Packers to sign him for a contract next year, they may have a decent replacement in Sternberger.
Deguara I believe will be extremely valuable and will breakout better than I had hoped when he was drafted. I like the enthusiasm and the determination in a few of the college games with Cincinnati which were available and I saw those same features in limited plays last year. I expect him to excel in blocking and catching crossing patterns over the middle and play well in other aspects of the game.

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greengold's picture

June 07, 2021 at 10:53 am

I think Deguara starts the 2021 season on IR. Dominique Daffney should likely get his reps until he's fully healed. I love Deguara, but have been a bit concerned about his progress, having not heard much on that. Maybe he's coming along quicker than I might be thinking here.

Deguara is special, as is Sternberger. They really are different players altogether, and if both are healthy, I see them both having huge impacts this year.

Sternberger is the guy who I think can have a really big breakout season. Much will depend on who is playing QB. It factors in, because we've seen Sternberger wide open on a number of occasions only to not get a look/throw.

Jace had a horrific rookie season, to be fair. Being head hunted in a no contact practice was criminal. I don't know that we should really be counting anything from 2019.

His 2020 season was pretty good, given his limited opportunities, not being a favorite target of Aaron Rodgers. Played in only 12 games with zero starts. However, he was very productive when Rodgers threw his way. Sternberger had a Catch% of 80%. (Only Randall Cobb, of all the great receivers we've known in GB caught 80% of his passes, in his rookie season). Sternberger's drop rate was only 6.7% for a 126 passer rating when thrown to. He caught 12 of 15 Targets for 115 yds, 6 1Ds, and 1 TD.

He only had 1 drop in 2019, and 1 drop in 2020... Not sure where he had "some bad drops." ???

Jace Sternberger is going to get one hell of a lot more looks/opportunities to show why Gutekunst selected him pick #75 of the 2019 draft in this 2021 season. I think he really wants to make a name for himself, and that this is his year for a breakout onto the scene.

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dobber's picture

June 07, 2021 at 10:59 am

"I think Deguara starts the 2021 season on IR."

I think he was working on individual drills at OTAs, just not team activities. He's almost 9 months out from his injury, which wasn't documented as being exceptionally severe. PUP is a possibility if he doesn't practice in camp, but I think it unlikely that he'll start the season on IR. I'd expect him to be part of camp on on the active roster when the season opens...he'll likely get regular off-days in practice. Just a guess.

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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

June 08, 2021 at 02:31 pm

What is nice is the amount of depth the Packers seemingly have at so many positions including TE's, and H-backs!

Just throwing it out there with all the trade talks but as part of the mega trade with Denver might Noah Fant be coming to GB? If so, with Tonyan in his last year of contract might there be an exchange? A lot of crazy possibilities if the Rodger's trade goes thru. You know Rodger's would want players like Adam's and Tonyan with him, and since Rodger's wants so much involvement in player personnel decisions maybe he can whisper to Elway who he wants from GB. Love Tonyan and one of his biggest fans! Was also a huge Noah Fant fan leading up to the draft but I like his age, talent, upside, and contract.

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splitpea1's picture

June 07, 2021 at 12:11 pm

No need to worry--if either one falters or has injury issues, we have Dafney to fill in, which includes special teams. He's a good guy to have around.

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MajWhiplash's picture

June 07, 2021 at 06:19 pm

Sternberger is an accident waiting to happen. He is prone to concussions I beleiver and had serious ones at Wisc, questioned why the Pack picked him.
Too bad he had his shot and hasnt produced, time to leave pal. We need people who can play

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Alberta_Packer's picture

June 07, 2021 at 07:59 pm

If he's already had 2 serious concussions - the likelihood for a third is higher. I've known hockey players who have quit the game after several serious concussions. They also said it changed their game - they became more tentative and their play less joyful. This is my main concern with Sternberger - another concussion and he may be finished with the NFL game.

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GregC's picture

June 07, 2021 at 08:23 pm

Sternberger did not play at Wisconsin, and I have not seen any reports of him having a concussion in his college career. He has had two concussions as a pro, but that does not mean he is prone to them. Anyone can get a concussion if they take a hard shot to the head.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

June 08, 2021 at 05:45 am

QB: 2. Z could be a third QB.
RB: 3 or 4. Jones, Dillon, and U, possibly V
TE: 3 - 5. Tonyan, Lewis, Deguara, W, possibly X
WR: 5+. Adams, Lazard, MVS, Rodgers, Y, possibly Z
OL: 9 or 10, possibly 11.

I've got 9 named players + 2 QB, a third RB, and a fifth WR + 9 OL = 22.
U-V could be Hill/Patrick Taylor. Do they keep 4? Still 22.
W/X could be Sternberger/Dafney. At least 1 = 23. Keep Both? 24
Y could be Funchess. I don't see a 6th WR.
Z could be a third QB. AR, Love, Bortles.

OL: Jenkins, Patrick, Myers, Runyan, Turner, Newman. 6. Bakh on PUP?
A,B, C from Stepaniak, Nijman, Braden, Hanson, Van Lanen, Zack Johnson, Dietzen, Capra, Cronk,

Overall, I see both Sternberger and Dafney making the roster. The offense works better with an H or F back, and Dafney is Deguara's backup. That's 24. Hard to imagine more than 25 roster spots for the offense, so at most one more spot. There could be a third QB but for now two is the minimum. There could be 10 OL but the minimum is likely 9 - I suppose eight is possible. Might not be 25 spots dedicated to offense, but if there's 25, perhaps a 10th OL, or a 4th RB, or a 3rd QB. Someone might push Funchess who saves some cap space if he is released. Releasing ESB saves some money. Releasing Sternberger doesn't save cap space, it actually costs a small amount, about $40K. Releasing Hill and/or Patrick Taylor are both roughly neutral.

The offense is pretty set. Battles for 3rd RB, it is Funchess to lose the 5th WR spot, and three OL spots up for grabs.

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stockholder's picture

June 08, 2021 at 06:50 am

I love your money evaluations. The point I keep seeing. it's all about the money.

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flackcatcher's picture

June 08, 2021 at 12:21 pm

Some will depend on how the Packers construct this year's roster. I question Sternberger's health, and like you, I believe the need for another F-Back was proven during the NFCC game. What cuts on the offense side will be Cap related if, IF the FO thinks they have equal replacement value. The major flaw in the Lafleur offense is it depends even more on players at certain positions (F/H-Back Slot WR) to make it work than the Shanahan scheme in general. That might put Funchess and even a starter like Patrick at risk.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

June 08, 2021 at 07:29 am

Defense:

DL: 5 or 6. Clark, Lowry, Slaton, Keke, Lancaster, possibly A.
OLB: 4 - 6. Smith, Smith, Gary, B, C, D.
ILB: 3 or 5. Barnes, Martin, Summers, E, F.
CB: 5 or 6. Jaire, Stokes, King, Jean-Charles, G, possibly H
S: 4 or 5. Amos, Savage, I, J, possibly K.
21 to 28.

A could be Rush, Previlon, Scott, Helflin.
B/C/D could be Garvin, Ramsey, Galeai, Kemp
E/F could be Burks, McDuffie, Harris, Wilborn
F/G could be Sullivan, Jackson, Hollman, Ento, Samuels
H/I/J could be Scott, Redmond, Black, Uphoff, Gaines

Usually uses 25 or 26 spots on defense. 5 DL, 5 OLBs, 4 ILBs, 6 CBs, 5 S = 25.

Lots of competition on defense. Can someone displace Lancaster or persuade Gute to keep 6 DL? Releasing Lancaster saves about $267K/$387K, Rush $125K. GB keeps at least 5. OLB group is strong, so at least 5, could be 6. I figure Summers makes it for ST, and McDuffie is a 6th round pick, so iffy but it is a leg up. Costs money to release McDuffie and sign him to the PS. Releasing Burks saves $165K to $285K. GB keeps 4. Sullivan seems like a good bet but releasing him saves about $1.35M to $1.47M. Releasing Jackson saves $550K to $670K. I'm guessing GB keeps 6 CBs, love to see someone blossom as there is some potential here. GB keeps 5 safeties, but it could be 6. Redmond (saves $140K/$260K) is a good bet. I didn't talk about hybrid ILB or the star position. Couple of these DBs might fit in there, including Black, Uphoff, Gaines.

I am figuring on 5 DL, 5 OLBs, 4 ILBs, 6 CBs and 5 safeties for 25 defensive players? Some strong CB and safety room - someone might force GB to carry an extra player.

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flackcatcher's picture

June 08, 2021 at 01:08 pm

This is going get interesting, and not in a good way. For all the carping about Mike Pettine, his defense got the Packers to two back to back NFCC games, and in the last set up the team for victory. Some may disagree with the scheme, or how he ran his unit, but he was successful. Let's not forget that. So what's the scheme. Lafleur (he's running the defense. Barry is a placeholder if one is honest) wants a Fangio type scheme. Problem is, even Fangio doesn't run a classic Fangio defense anymore. There may more clashes between the FO and coaching staff on roster slots because of system and scheme. And that does not bode well for Matt Lafleur. Player replacement, well, outside of ILB and maybe an extra DL this group is set. Most of the action is going to be in the secondary. If healthy, this is a very strong group. The Packers will not be able to stash any of this CB/SS group on the PS. But, it must be said that the Packers could make hard Cap cuts if they think their draft choice/FA are of equal value in the ILB and DL group. Hard decisions will have to made early on by the FO. This will not be easy for Lafleur. It will be an early test of his maturity as a Head Coach.

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mrtundra's picture

June 08, 2021 at 09:09 am

I'm wondering how much time Deguara spent with Love, as his QB, in OTAs? The same goes for Sternberger. I see Deguara having a leg up here as Sternberger has Mercedes Lewis and Bob Tonyan in front of him on the depth chart. Then throw in Dafney and what we had seen from him last season at TE and on STs. Sternberger could find himself at the bottom of the TE depth chart. I like Sternberger. He needs to become more consistent, catching the ball, though. A big, tough kid who is not afraid to hit defenders.

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