According to Hobbes: Packers Offseason Primer on the NFL Combine: Tight Ends

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Tight Ends: Here’s the fourth of a series of articles looking specifically at the NFL combine and the Packers’ drafting tendencies. (read here for the rationale for this series and here for quarterbacks, here for running backs and here for wide receivers).  This article will use the combine numbers from previous players drafted by GM Ted Thompson as a guide for what tight ends are likely to fit into the Packers’ scheme.

Again, this is merely an attempt to make a best guess based on statistics at which players the Packers might be interested in, game tape naturally trumps combine numbers, so take all of this with a grain of salt.  But I believe it will make for some interesting discussion.  Also listed below are also two tight ends in this year’s draft who I think fit the Packers scheme the best, based on their combine numbers.

Statistics of tight ends drafted by the Packers:

Name Height Weight 40-Yard 3-Cone Shuttle Vertical Broad Bench
Clark Harris 6’5″ 257.00 4.80 4.40 32.00 112.00 21.00
Jermichael Finley 6’4″ 240.00 4.82 7.15 4.38 27.50 117.00 20.00
Andrew Quarless 6’4″ 248.00 4.69 7.29 4.57 32.00 112.00 23.00
Average 6’4″ 248.33 4.77 7.22 4.45 30.50 113.67 21.33
StDev 0.58 8.50 0.07 0.10 0.10 2.60 2.89 1.53

What the Packers are looking for: As much as GM Ted Thompson likes to draft wide receivers, Thompson has only drafted 3 tight ends, which probably means that Thompson doesn’t value tight ends as much as other teams do.  This probably is due in part to the fact that Thompson seems perfectly happy with drafting tight ends that are not considered “complete” (in the mold of Jason Witten or Dallas Clark who can pass catch and block) and instead focuses purely on the receiving tight end.

Something else interesting to note is that all the tight ends that Thompson has drafted have been considered serious developmental projects; Clark Harris didn’t manage to get past the roster cut down, Finley had an atrocious rookie campaign and while Quarless had many more opportunities, his rookie season was also quite forgettable.  Perhaps the most ironic of all is that Jermichael Finley had a ridiculously bad combine; running a 4.82 is comparable to Brian Brohm, a quarterback, and Allen Barbre, an offensive lineman who outweighs Finley by 60 pounds.  His 27.5-inch vertical puts him second to last of all Packers drafted by Ted Thompson with only Breno Giacomini, another offensive lineman doing worse.

Obviously these numbers are very misleading since Finley is constantly able to outrun linebackers and out-jump cornerbacks.  Thompson has always claimed that the biggest gambles are when players play at a certain level and can’t recreate that level at the combine, add that to Finley’s high draft pick and his lack of experience and he might be the biggest gamble that Thompson has ever drafted.

The drills where tight ends had the lowest relative standard deviation (thus implying the highest importance) are height, weight, 3-cone and broad jump.  The Packers have jumped onto the receiving tight end mold and all of their drafted tight ends are tall and skinny, more akin to bigger wide receivers than offensive lineman.  The 3-cone drill shows a player’s agility and flexibility while running forward (as opposed to the shuttle which looks more into lateral agility), which is important for tight ends who must be able to weave though the traffic of the middle of the field.   Finally the broad jump looks at a player’s lower body strength, which is important for tight ends who must drive block (one of the position specific drills that tight ends perform at the combine) and also to show good initial burst off the line.

As for specific skills, the Packers use their tight ends as bigger receivers, especially down the seams.  This is a very useful position for the Packers since the Vikings and Lions often play Tampa-2 defense.  More importantly, the Packers hated rivals the Bears play a mainly Tampa-2 style of defense where the middle linebacker (Brian Urlacher) often becomes a third safety by playing the deep middle.  One of the traditional ways to attack a Tampa-2 defense is to run tight ends down the seams; the Packer were considerably less effective in week 17 than in week 3 as a result of Finley being on IR.

Packers tight ends are mostly of the receiving variant, so route running, soft hands and the ability to read coverages are more important than inline strength or blocking ability.  That isn’t saying that tight ends don’t block, but often the Packers will motion their tight end to around where a fullback would be to block, which is an easier block to make as opposed to an inline block.

Comparable tight ends in the 2011 draft (analysis taken from NFL.com):

Jordan Cameron USC/6’5″/254 lbs/6.82 3-cone/9’11” broad jump

Pros:

  • Possess the height and the body type for the new breed of tight ends
  • Good Hands
  • A vertical threat up the seam

Cons:

  • Incredibly raw
  • Poor blocking skills
  • Poor game awareness

Robert Housler Florida Atlantic/6’5″/248 lbs/6.90 3-cone/9’9″ broad jump

Pros:

  • Possess the height and the body type for the new breed of tight ends
  • Good top end speed
  • Reliable hands

Cons:

  • Not a smooth route runner
  • Lacks the bulk to block effectively
  • Lacks lateral agility

Conclusion: Both tight ends are in the mold of the current in “fad” tight ends which are more bigger wide receivers rather than smaller offensive linemen.  Both are athletic enough to outrun linebackers while tall enough to out jump cornerbacks and safeties.  As was obvious when Jermicheal Finley was on the field, defenses have yet to really come up with a counter for tight ends in this mold, my assumption is that you are likely to see faster linebackers get switched to safeties soon to start countering these types of tight ends.

Also, it was obvious that Finley was the main threat on the Packers offense as teams where swarming him and Rodgers was focusing on him. When he was lost it took a couple of games for the Packers to re-identify their offense (by going through Greg Jennings mainly) and having another Jermicheal Finley type of tight end would serve the Packers greatly.

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Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.

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  • Taryn

    If Driver was 32 and Jones wasn’t as unreliable I can see the advantage of another TE of the mold of Finley.But Driver isn’t 32 and Jones is unreliable and for me the most compelling reason other than those to not draft another TE is the fact that our offense wasn’t as effective when being centered on Finley.
    Finley,Quarless and Crabtree IMO will be a versatile group and an UDFA will fill the 4th spot if needed.But anything that they contribute will/should be based and hopefully due to the depth and play of the WRs which is where two draft picks will go towards,because Driver isn’t 32 and Jones is unreliable and more likely gone.

    So I will use this as a spot to say that even though you mentioned Housler from Fla Atl,IMO the WR Lester Jean from there will be on TTs late round draft list and future Packer.

    • Thomas Hobbes

      Actually I wasn’t advocating that the Packers take a tight end. The reason behind this series was not to advocate taking one player over another, only to use previous combine numbers to see which players most match what the Packers have done in the past. But yes, I agree with you my feeling is that a wide receiver is more likely to be taken than a tight end for the reasons that you mentioned.

      • Taryn

        Sorry Thomas,it was the last line in the post that seemed to suggest it.My bad.

        • Thomas Hobbes

          No worries, actually reading that last sentence I can see where you are coming from. What I meant was that we didn’t really have anyone to replace Finley, and the whole offense was out of whack for a while after Finley went to IR while Rodgers sort of reorganized his priorities (read: Greg Jennings) and it would make sense to have someone more capable of stepping up. I’m assuming that the Packers think Quarless is that player, so I doubt a TE will be drafted high, but maybe a late rounder or a UDRFA will come in.

    • FireMMNow

      Lestar Jean does look good. Very good upperbody flexibility for a receiver his size. Hands catcher. Very thin though and will take some time to develop. I am thinking that he will be more of a mid round guy than a late round guy. (3-4 round range, not 5-7) just my opinion though. he is not the type of WR that TT has targeted lately, but still an intriguing guy.

  • han

    Packers need more Offensive linemen, Defensive Linemen, corner, WR and safety then TE

    • Chad Toporski

      “Packers need more Offensive linemen…”

      They actually already have 13. (12 if you don’t count Tauscher.)

      But I’ll be getting into that later with my “Position Needs” series on the O-lineman…

  • JimR_in_DC

    I could live with the Packers having TWO TE’s of Finley’s caliber.