In this series we take a close look at the Packers 90-man roster on the verge of training camp and discuss each player’s chances of making the final 53.
There isn’t a position on the Green Bay Packers roster with more uncertainty heading into the 2014 season than tight end.
Only a year ago, Jermichael Finley was on the brink of establishing himself as one of the young, ascending stars at the position in the NFL. He was coming off a season where he caught 61 balls for 667 yards and two touchdowns.
The former Texas Longhorn was becoming a fixture in Green Bay’s high-octane offense. His tall 6-foot-5 frame and top-tier athleticism added a dimension to the Packers offense that was tough to replace in 2013.
Finley was off to another strong start in 2013, hauling in 25 receptions for 300 yards in the Packers first six games. Finley’s premature exit to the season, and perhaps his career, came when he injured his neck after taking a gruesome hit during the second half of the Packers’ win against the Cleveland Browns in week seven of the regular season.
The Packers offense lost some of its punch with Finley out of the lineup, and with their star tight end’s future in doubt, at least in Green Bay, the Packers are ready to move on without No. 88 at the position.
On the bright side, the Packers will have Andrew Quarless back, who did an admirable job as the starting tight end in Finley’s absence for the rest of the 2013 season. They will also get athletic tight end Brandon Bostick back and healthy after he missed most of December with a broken foot.
The Packers also addressed tight end in the draft with third-round pick Richard Rodgers out of Cal and brought in highly-talented Colt Lyerla in undrafted free agency.
The Packers have options at the position, but whoever steps up and fills Finley’s shoes, will be determined in camp this summer.
TIGHT END (7)
Quarless may be the frontrunner for the starting tight end job, but with Rodgers and Bostick looking to make a move, Quarless can’t afford to take a step back in camp this year.
At times, Quarless proves he is a reliable target in the middle of the field for his quarterback. I think back on his diving catch against the Chicago Bears in week seventeen to help keep the Packers’ game-winning drive alive.
He really came on strong in the month of December and redeemed what was otherwise a mediocre season.
Despite making some gains, Quarless was far from being the receiving threat that Finley was at the position, and even more disappointing, Quarless was very inconsistent as a run blocker last year. He really struggled to seal the edge against Cleveland’s defensive ends and was credited for several “bad runs” in the loss against the New York Giants.
Quarless’ ability as a run blocker used to be his bread and butter. It’s what made his game standout during the Packers’ 2010 Super Bowl run.
Quarless needs to get back to blocking at that level, especially with the Packers shifting to a more balanced offensive attack with Eddie Lacy in the backfield.
Quarless still has plenty to prove going into camp this season. Earning the starting job won’t be a cake walk though.
Rodgers might be one player with a legitimate shot at challenging Quarless for playing time.
So far, the rookie tight end has impressed coaches and teammates in OTAs. Coach McCarthy noted to the media that Rodgers looks like a natural pass catcher on the field.
The former Cal tight end spent the majority of the 2013 season lined up as a wideout, recording 39 receptions for 608 yards, so his ability as route runner in space is a strength to his game. His 15.6 receiving average also shows his ability to get downfield and make plays.
Rodgers provides a large target for quarterbacks in the middle of the field and in the redzone; however, he only recorded two receiving touchdowns during his entire college career, so his production near the goal line could improve.
Rodgers also doesn’t have great straight-line speed (4.87), which could be problem if the Packers are looking for a guy who can run the seam route effectively and split the defense.
However, Rodgers has enough athleticism to be an effective receiver and gain separation from linebackers. He also has great hands and moves fluidly in and out of routes.
Rodgers is a real asset to the Packers’ passing game, but to push for the starting job, he’ll need to show in camp he can also block effectively.
Bostick is the dark horse at the position. He’s entering his third season, and after making the roster as a converted college wide receiver, Bostick has shown glimpses of being a dynamic tight end the Packers could really utilize in their offense.
Bostick only caught seven balls last year, but it was for 120 yards and a touchdown, giving him a 17.1 receiving average. Four of Bostick’s seven receptions were for over 20 yards. By comparison, only three of Quarless’ 32 receptions went for over 20 yards.
Bostick’s 4.59 speed and 36-inch vert coming out of college are unique physical traits he brings to the position. The former Newberry College wideout has big-play potential, and last year his run blocking improved after looking abysmal in 2012.
Unfortunately, injuries really prevented Bostick from seeing a significant amount of playing time last year, especially with Finley out of the lineup.
With a strong camp, Bostick could challenge Quarless and Rodgers for the starting job, or in the very least, factor into Green Bay’s offense in a significant way.
Ryan Taylor has been the forgotten man at the position since he entered the league in 2011 as a seventh-round draft pick.
Taylor’s career receiving numbers don’t speak to what he brings to this team (8 rec, 45 yards, 1 TD). Taylor has been a special teams ace since he donned a Green and Gold jersey, and he may also be the Packers strongest run blocker at tight end.
Taylor’s game lacks flash. His jersey won’t sell out at the Packers store any time soon. However, the former Tar Heel brings some grit and toughness to the Packers tight end group and should secure a roster spot because of what he does for the team in the run game and on special teams.
Who knows? Maybe Taylor will even play a bigger role in the passing game this season.
If Bostick is the dark horse and Taylor is the “you-get-what-see” at the position, then Colt Lyerla is the wildcard.
Nobody really knows what the Packers have in Lyerla, but his natural ability is intriguing.
The former Oregon tight end blew up the NFL Combine this past February, recording a blazing 4.61 forty and a 39-inch vertical.
After being dismissed from the Oregon program two games into the 2013 season following an arrest for cocaine possession, many had concerns about Lyerla’s character and off-the-field behavior, leading to him going undrafted in May despite possessing all the physical tools to excel as an NFL tight end.
The Packers are taking a chance on Lyerla, but by signing him as an undrafted free agent, it will be easy for them to cut their losses if it doesn’t work out.
Lyerla will have a shot at making the Packers’ final roster, but he’ll have to showcase his natural ability as a pass catcher and quiet any concerns remaining about his character.
With as wide open the Packers tight end position is going into the 2014 season, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the former Duck will make a serious push for a roster spot, or better yet, playing time this season.
Before leaving Oregon, he did have a productive college career, recording 32 receptions for 469 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011 and 2012. He averaged over 15 yards per reception in Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense and showed a knack for making plays downfield.
Lyerla definitely has a long hill to climb before he sees the field in an NFL jersey, but with a strong camp and preseason, he may just make enough noise to stake his claim on an NFL roster.
Stoneburner spent the beginning of the 2013 season on the Packers’ practice squad after he failed to make a splash in the preseason as an undrafted free agent.
Green Bay called him up to their 53-man roster after they placed Finley on IR, but the former Buckeye didn’t record a single reception in the regular season and struggled to make his mark on special teams.
Stoneburner possesses some promise as a receiving threat. He has 4.62 speed and caught 53 balls and 13 touchdowns in three years for Ohio State.
Stoneburner is still young and has plenty of room to grow. However, the Packers aren’t short of young talent to develop at tight end, especially with Rodgers and Lyerla joining the group this year. Stoneburner would have to really standout in camp this year to even be considered for a final roster spot.
Like Stoneburner last year, Perrillo joins the Packers as an undrafted rookie. The stout tight end out of Maine has long odds to beat to make the final cut, but even if a roster spot is out of reach, Perrillo could make a push to beat out Stoneburner or one of the other young tight ends for a spot on the Packers’ practice squad.
The Packers keep tight end well-balanced with Andrew Quarless, Richard Rodgers, Brandon Bostick, and Ryan Taylor on the final roster and try to stash Colt Lyerla on the practice squad to develop for another year.