In this third installment of our 2011 Draft Prep series looking at the Green Bay Packers’ needs by position, we are going to analyze how the tight end position currently stands. Strengths, weaknesses, depth, and uncertainties will all be examined to determine the urgency of need in regards to next season.
This series is meant to help us figure out the needs of the team and how the draft could be used to improve the weaker areas. While Ted Thompson largely uses the “best player available” (BPA) approach, his decision to trade up or down the board is affected by what position players he would prefer to have. Additionally, the picking up of players in the later rounds and in undrafted free agency is often based on need, since the talent is less defined.
#88 Jermichael Finley
24 yrs. old / 3 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2011
#81 Andrew Quarless
22 yrs. old / 1 yr. exp.
Signed through 2013
#83 Tom Crabtree
25 yrs. old / 1 yr. exp.
Signed through 2012
#41 Spencer Havner
28 yrs. old / 2 yrs. exp.
Free Agent (tender offered)
* Contract information acquired from RotoWorld.com
Jermichael Finley could be the best receiving tight end in the league right now, and his case for this distinction would be much stronger if not for his season-ending knee injury. In the first four games of 2010, Finley had 21 receptions for 301 yards and a touchdown, which would have put him on pace for a 1,000 yard season.
But beyond the numbers, Finley is just a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses. Mike McCarthy has lined him up as both a tight end and wide receiver, trying to take advantage of his height and his speed. He is also a big red zone target, not only because of his size, but also because of his great hands.
Behind Finley, the Packers have picked up two promising, young tight ends in Andrew Quarless and Tom Crabtree. Though neither player was stellar in his role this season, each one has shown the potential to be solid cogs in the offensive machine.
For a position that McCarthy likes to utilize in his offense, he has a great group of talent and depth to work with next season.
With the departure of Donald Lee, the question of veteran leadership among the group comes into question.
While Jermichael Finley certainly has the experience and the talent necessary to “lead” the group, his personality isn’t very conducive to him being a “leader” of the group. This is a relatively young group of guys who collectively only have a handful of years’ experience between them.
If Spencer Havner returns, he could be the mature voice among them, though last season’s on-and-off history with the Packers probably diminishes that voice’s level of power.
Additionally, the tight ends share a weakness similar to the running backs, in that they are a very specialized group of players.
Jermichael Finley and Andrew Quarless were picked up primarily for their abilities as receiving tight ends. Tom Crabtree, meanwhile, is kept in almost primarily as a blocker – an area in which he excels. And then there’s Spencer Havner, the converted linebacker who is more of a “jack of all trades and master of none,” or “utility player.”
While tight ends coach Ben McAdoo had no worries about Finley’s blocking abilities during the beginning of the season, there is still some doubt about his level of play in that regard. Quarless and Crabtree could also be bigger parts of the offense if they significantly improve their respective weaknesses.
After watching Finley go down in Week 5 and seeing the tight end position struggle to be productive thereafter, the depth behind Green Bay’s superstar could come into question. Though Donald Lee had a pretty bad year, his absence now puts more of a burden on the young players.
Plus, we’re not totally sure what condition Finley will be in when he returns. The level of uncertainty is pretty small given Finley’s athleticism, drive, and motivation, yet it is still something to monitor.
Aside from that, the only other question going into the draft is the status of Spencer Havner. I’m sure the Packers would be interested in bringing him back into the organization (they did offer him a tender), but whether he returns after being cut last season is pretty much up to him.
URGENCY OF NEEDS: Low
Really, how can you get much better than Jermichael Finley?
There’s no pressing need this year to add any more tight ends. Through the draft and free agency last year, Ted Thompson had the foresight to add some youthful depth to the position. If Quarless and Crabtree progress as expected in their sophomore year, then there should be nothing to worry about.
With the exception of last season, Mike McCarthy has, at most, really only kept three tight ends on the roster at any one time. That said, there’s no reason to believe they are giving up on any of their current players or feel the need to seek better options through the draft. Plus, with Havner tendered (and if he re-signs), they should be pretty full at the position come training camp.
To add to this, from a managerial/financial standpoint, it would be wasteful to have more than one star player at the tight end position.
When it comes down to it, the priority to draft another tight end falls at the bottom of the list this year. If a quality player lands in the Packers’ lap during the low rounds, they might pick him up, but even then I doubt they’d be looking in that direction with their pick. The most I see Ted Thompson doing is signing an undrafted free agent.
*** For further reading, check out “According to Hobbes: Packers Offseason Primer on the NFL Combine: Tight Ends” by Thomas Hobbes. ***——————Follow @ChadToporski