Through the first three weeks in the season, other than Jimmy Graham‘s performance against the Vikings, Green Bay’s tight ends have been relatively quiet.
The Packers signed Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis in the offseason to join Lance Kendricks who was already on the team. Then in training camp, they discovered undrafted rookie Robert Tonyan, who was very productive during his preseason opportunities.
Overall, this looked like a deep position for the Packers that would contribute weekly.
Unfortunately, up to this point (and it is still early) we haven’t seen the production we would have hoped for.
I believe that much of the lack of production from the tight end group is due to that fact the coaching staff has failed to utilize each player’s strengths, resulting in fewer opportunities for them to be put in successful positions.
Through two of the three weeks played by Green Bay this far, Graham has had a limited impact. In his two games against the Bears and Redskins, Graham had a combined seven receptions for 49 yards. Even in the game against the Vikings, where he was able to haul in six receptions for 95 yards, Graham’s impact on the game was small.
One reason Graham hasn’t been able to put up any touchdowns on the season is because of the limited attempts in the red zone. Other than in the second half against Chicago, Green Bay has struggled to move the ball and hasn’t had many opportunities to score a touchdown from inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.
Through three games this season, Rodgers has only had 14 passing attempts inside the red zone. This is the portion of the field where Graham shines and can be a difference maker. Of his 69 career touchdown receptions, 55 have come in the red zone.
In addition, Green Bay’s opponents have been doing a nice job of not letting Graham get a clean break off the line. The defensive end or linebacker lined up on Graham has been chipping him as they rush the passer, slowing him down and delaying his route.
Graham has also been lined up as a blocker on numerous plays. He is known for his pass catching, but not his run blocking. When it is Graham’s responsibility to block Redskins edge rusher Ryan Kerrigan as it was on Sunday, the coaching staff is setting him up for failure.
Graham may be a “tight end” but he’s a pass catcher and needs to be treated as one. He needs to be lined up out wide more, to avoid the early contact from defenders and so he can maintain the timing of his route.
Lewis was brought in this offseason to add depth to the tight end position and because of his run blocking ability. However, Lewis has hardly seen the field at this point. Of Green Bay’s 206 offensive snaps thus far, Lewis has only seen the field for 13.6 percent of them.
Now, Lewis wasn’t brought in to play every snap. He most likely wasn’t brought to Green Bay to play half the snaps, but he definitely should be playing for than 13.6 percent of them.
The Packers have a great group of running backs, and early on we have already seen their potential. With Lewis’ skill set, he needs to be on the field much more for Green Bay as a run blocker.
At 6-foot-6, 267 pounds, Lewis’ big body allows him to drive defensive players away from the ball and he is very good at blocking in the open space due to his agility.
In the preseason, the Packers ran a number of plays where Lewis was lined up at the fullback position to be used as a blocker in the running game and to give defenses a different look. However, we haven’t seen Green Bay utilize this formation in the regular season.
Although Lewis is known around the league for his run blocking, he could be another potential target in the passing game for Aaron Rodgers. Over his career, Lewis has racked up over 4,500 receiving yards, averaging 12 yards per catch and 33 touchdowns. Lewis can make an impact as more than just a run blocker, but the coaching staff needs to give him more opportunities.
Similar to Lewis, Lance Kendricks has seen limited playing time, appearing in just 27 percent of Green Bay’s offensive snaps. During his time on the field, he has caught two passes for 17 yards.
However, unlike I believe Lewis needs more playing time, I believe that Kendricks is receiving too much. Whether it was in college at Wisconsin, with the Rams, or in Green Bay, Kendricks has always had issues with catching the ball.
Over his whole career, he’s been inconsistent and has a tendency to drop many catchable balls, as we saw against the Redskins on Sunday. Kendricks is also reluctant to go across the middle, often times short arming any passes thrown his way.
Kendricks is also ineffective as a run blocker. Due to his smaller frame, he is unable to sustain blocks against defensive players and can be pushed back on his heels.
With the discovery of Robert Tonyan in camp this offseason, there is no reason for Green Bay to carry four tight ends on the roster. As a former wide receiver at Indiana State, Tonyan is much more athletic than Kendricks and is a better pass catcher. With his big frame, he can fight through players in the secondary to make difficult catches.
By only having three tight ends on the roster, Green Bay could bring in a different position player that could potentially make an impact elsewhere on the field.
Although the Packers have a lot of talent at tight end, up to this point it is being under utilized. The coaching staff needs to make an effort to get Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis more involved with this offense.