The Packers should choose a different flavor of tight end All Green Bay Packers All the Time

At the moment there are 3 “flavors” of tight ends; everyone’s favorite at the moment is chocolate and that would be the “oversized wide receiver” tight ends like Jimmy Graham or Jordan Cameron, who are players who can take the top off of a defensive secondary while posing a size match up for cornerbacks and safeties while causing speed problems for linebackers.  These types of players are what the NFL craves right now and with the Seattle Seahawks winning the Super Bowl with bigger more physical corners, the most logical response would be for NFL offenses to counter with big and fast tight ends who can beat bigger corners at their own game.  Strawberry would be the “move” tight end, much like Aaron Hernandez or Jordan Reed, who while aren’t the biggest or fastest have the most utility of the group, being able to operate decently as a inline tight end, out in the slot or even as a fullback in some situations (the Packers in particular love this kind of tight end).  Finally, there is vanilla, the old and boring standby of inline or “complete” tight end such as Jason Witten or Todd Heap who were capable inline blockers but could also operate as a safety value for a quarterback in the short passing game.  Each flavor has its own advantages and disadvantages and that’s fluctuated over time as offenses and defenses have evolved in the NFL.

When looking at the Packers under the Mike McCarthy/Ted Thompson regime, the flavors that appeal most have definitely been chocolate (Jermichael Finley, Brandon Bostick) and strawberry (Tom Crabtree, Spencer Havner, Ryan Taylor, DJ Williams) with almost no emphasis being placed on blocking.  And it’s easy to see why, with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers at the helm, plays could be extended, wide receivers got the majority of the attention on offense and running backs, outside of a couple years of Ahman Green in his prime, took a back seat to the offensive passing game.  Add to that the aerial explosion that occurred starting around that time and it’s easy to see why the Packers, along with pretty much every other NFL team, starting looking at tight ends more as receivers than blockers.  However, we might just start to see Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson pick a different favorite flavor this coming draft.

The Packers are arguable one of the most explosive and dominant passing teams in the NFL currently, and they’ve shown that they can maintain their offensive philosophy with different players; Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings were hurt for the majority of the 2012 season, but that wasn’t a problem as James Jones logged a career year and Randall Cobb started to emerge as a true threat.  This year Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley were lost for sizable portions of the season and yet the offense still managed to score points (with Aaron Rodgers of course) with Jordy Nelson and Jarrett Boykin.  Simply put, a chocolate type of tight end like Jermichael Finley is a luxury for the Packers and not a requirement.  The Packers were very successful in 2010 and won a Super Bowl without Jermichael Finley, they had a spectacular season in 2011 even when Finley had a down year and probably would have done well without Finley this year had Aaron Rodgers been on the field.  Compare that to the Patriots, whose passing game is designed to go through the tight ends the last couple years and you can see the difference.

The second thing to consider is how the Packers want to respond after finally finding balance in the offense this season; sure, they were essentially forced to find balance with Aaron Rodgers breaking his collarbone, but really this still was probably a blessing in disguise.  It had become apparent that NFL defenses had figured out Rodgers and McCarthy’s game plan a little and stuck with staying back in coverage (mostly cover 2) and forcing the Packers to gain steady yards continually, something that a fast paced, high scoring offense like the Packers will naturally struggle with.  But with Eddie Lacy starting to figure things out in the middle part of the season and you started to see a brutally effective offense that maximizes its opportunities and can control the pace and flavor of a game.  The Packers have now experienced what its like when defenses have to really pick their own poison and I think the biggest change is how the tight ends are used.

The best compliment to a balanced offense is not a seam stretching tight end like Jermichael Finley nor is it a gadget h-back/fullback/tight end like Jordan Reed, its a balanced tight end like Jason Witten, who can not only help block for Eddie Lacy but can also provide a safety valve for Aaron Rodgers, who then can let Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson run more vertical routes.  In essence, the Packers can afford to lose Jermichael Finley and the type of tight end he represents because they’ve already shown they can live without him.  However, Eddie Lacy has started to show his potential and it would be foolish not to give him some help in that regard; fans rant and rave about finding help for a quarterback, whether its a wide receiver or more offensive linemen, but Eddie Lacy probably needs a good blocking tight end the most while Aaron Rodgers probably needs a big tight end with soft hands in the short game, to counter defenses staying back in coverage and forcing the short gains.  Should defenses shift gears and start to take away the short stuff, Nelson and Cobb are proven deep threats which covers that problem.

Packers fans are probably looking at replacing Jermichael Finley with a similar player like Eric Ebron (North Carolina) or Jace Amaro (Texas Tech) but Packers fans should broaden their search and look at players more like Austin Seferian-Jenkins  (Washington) or C.J. Fiedorowicz (Iowa), who will have great value as their flavor is less popular at the moment while also making the Packers a more balanced team that features both Aaron Rodgers and Eddie Lacy.  In the end, the complete tight end might be the mundane vanilla, but there’s a reason vanilla is the most popular flavor.


Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s


30 thoughts on “The Packers should choose a different flavor of tight end

  1. This is why I had high hopes for Quarless. He’s an inferior receiver to Finley but a far superior blocker. While he is less than ideally sized, he still could’ve potentially gotten the job done.

    And while I agree with the article, the Packers had 4 WR threats in 2010. Now they have 2 WR if Jones walks. Boykin isn’t a bad player but let’s be honest, not the finest vintage.

    I’d love to see more 2TE, 2RB sets and McCarthy admit that the 4/5 wide sets are a thing of the past.

    1. I’d argue that Boykin had a pretty similar season in 2013 to Driver and Jones in 2010

      James Jones (2010): 556 snaps, 50 receptions, 692 yards, 5 touchdowns
      Donald Driver (2010): 694 snaps, 51 receptions, 565 yards, 4 touchdowns
      Jarrett Boykin (2013): 673 snaps, 49 receptions, 681 yards, 3 touchdowns

      Also keep in mind, James Jones and Donald Driver had the benefit of a full season with Aaron Rodgers behind center. So really I would say the Packers have 3 WRs and I wouldn’t discount Jones coming back as well, considering how cold free agency was for him the first time around I don’t see a buyer’s market for him 3 years later and turning 30.

      1. That’s fair.

        I was mostly thinking down the stretch after Rodgers concussion. The team took on a whole different dynamic and everyone elevated their play. Lot of experience and production from everyone.

        It’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out.

        1. At this point, there doesn’t have to be much difference between a 2-2-1 set and a 4-0-1 set. For instance if the Packers put out Finley, Bostick, Nelson and Cobb, its not like anyone is going to think that the run blocking is going to be any good.

          I think the important thing to note is that its not like you need super star wide receivers going four deep, you really need 1 or 2 star receivers and 2 to 3 decent to above average guys. Just like having a great safety can make life easier for cornerbacks, having a great #1 makes being the #3 or #4 wide receiver a lot easier as well.

    2. I think it’s a bit rich to say we had 4 WR threats in 2010. Jones and Nelson were as unknown and average-looking as Boykin, and Driver had already lost a step.

      1. Driver really only fell off a cliff in 2011, he was a decent wide receiver in 2010. Was he Calvin Johnson? No but with Jennings, Nelson and Jones (not to mention Finley) in front of him, its not like he need to beat double coverage or anything like that.

  2. 4/5 WR sets are hardly a thing of the past. The key is to have an OL that can handle the blocking and a QB that can make quick reads/decisions. Whatever we can do to get a mismatch is well worth it. I expect we will see more of it this coming year than we did last year because A. I think our OL will be better and B. Rodgers will (fingers crossed) be in the lineup all season. GoPack!

    1. For the Packers 4 and especially 5 wr sets are a thing of the past. Packers have gone to 3 WR w Lacy and no huddle to take advantage of Rodgers ability to call plays at the LOS. In no huddle they can keep the D on its heels and in favorable matchups for our offense. If they huddle or substitute the D can adjust. With Rodgers under center and Lacy on the roster 4 and 5 WR sets will be non-existent.

      1. I also think that having a more balanced grouping allows for a better hurry up offense. There are only so many things you could possibly do with 5 wide receivers.

  3. I think we can get a decent TE, such as Lynch from Georgia or Fedo from Iowa with our comp pick at the end of the third round, by doing so we could take 3 defensive players with our top 3 picks.

  4. I agree that we should not ignore the blocking function of the TE. however, a Finley/Graham-type of TE still helps the run game even if they don’t do it by blocking well. Sure, the opponent knows TE will most likely run a route, but they will still have to account for covering him. The guy they assign to him will likely have to be faster (ie. smaller) and less able to defend the run. And if he is chasing TE on a route off the line of scrimmage, it is very difficult for him to help against the run, even if he is good at it.

    plus, the fact that WR’s can be deep threats doesn’t mean that 2 players (2 WR’s) threatening deep release can provide the same sort of threat as 3 players (2 WR’s and TE) threatening deep release. There’s alot of area to cover for the secondary.

    1. I agree, but the question becomes is it worth the specialization of a pure receiver like Jimmy Graham over the utility of Jason Witten. In my opinion, the loss of Graham’s big play ability is more than made up by Witten’s blocking a safety valve value. To put it another way, Witten isn’t nearly as bad of a receiving threat as Graham is at run blocking.

  5. I like the guy from Iowa. He is a big guy that can block. More importantly he seems to have a Talent for finding the end zone. Give me a big tight end that can block, keep the chains moving on third down, and find the end zone in the red zone. Cobb, Nelson, Boykin, Lacy can get the Packers from the 20 to the ten.

  6. I like the guy from Iowa. He is a big guy that can block. More importantly he seems to have a Talent for finding the end zone. Give me a big tight end that can block, keep the chains moving on third down, and find the end zone in the red zone. Cobb, Nelson, Boykin, Lacy can get the Packers from the 20 to the ten.

  7. I like the guy from Iowa. He is a big guy that can block. More importantly he seems to have a Talent for finding the end zone. Give me a big tight end that can block, keep the chains moving on third down, and find the end zone in the red zone. Cobb, Nelson, Boykin, Lacy can get the Packers from the 20 to the ten.

  8. Q: If Jimmy Graham is a ‘chocolate’ TE and Jason Witten is a ‘vanilla’ TE, what is Aaron Hernandez?

    A: A murderer.

  9. Most importantly we need a TE who remains healthy. I’m fine with a blocking TE who can also be a big target for Rodgers in the red zone and on 3rd downs. A seam stretching TE like Finley also works in the GB offense. Either way it would be nice to have a player who can stay on the field. Thanks, Since’61

    1. I wouldn’t put much fault on Finley’s injury, that was just the sort of crappy bad luck/freaky injury that ended Nick Collins’ career, i.e. no ones fault but fate. As for the rest of the TEs I wouldn’t say they are any more injury prone than the rest of the team, and sooner or later I think the injury bug will fade as its more or less random.

  10. I like CJ from Iowa with a slight different argument. We havee a field stretcher in Cobb playing in slot (not tlaking about outside, just inside)What we do have is problems in th redzone. My thought is that one of the ways to improve this is having the tall target, when ur inside 20yds u dont need speed to split seem any more.U need, in the short field someone who can out jump others . CJ is 6’5″ -way taller than our other potential targets.Our current TE’s aren’t really considered on tall side (when compared to other tall TE or tall WR like C Johnson). I think this maybe our main reason why we have low redzone %–u can only do corner fades and or posts ect and need our wr/te to be wide open to score, instead of having a tall person who can outjump the DB’s.

    1. Finley is 6’5″ so they have had that type of player. I would say the Packers sort of moved away from the jump ball touchdown in favor of the back shoulder pass and just tight route running. I’m not sure if that was a conscious decision by the coaching staff or Rodgers or more dictated by the receivers and injuries but to me it doesn’t seem like the Packers really want to throw the jump ball any more.

  11. Plus i do like the idea of having a decent blocking type TE. FOr value , i just dont see where we lose by taking CJ in 3-5th area.Frees up first couple rounds for other positions.

  12. Plus i do like the idea of having a decent blocking type TE. FOr value , i just dont see where we lose by taking CJ in 3-5th area.Frees up first couple rounds for other positions.

    1. This is one of the other potential benefits of drafting a more balanced tight end is that they simply aren’t that in vogue, hence their value has been depressed. A good comparison would be when the Steelers drafted Troy Polamalu with the 16th pick and that was considered ludicrously high for a safety in 2003. Fast forward to 2010 and Eric Berry gets drafted with the 5th overall pick and its not considered a reach.

  13. Thank you Thomas. I have been pondering this very question myself and wondering if I was an idiot for considering Finley an expendable luxury in light of our formidable running game.

    Finley had a great 2013 until his injury, but how many times in 2011-2012 would fans have gladly traded Fin for a less-explosive TE who would hold onto the ball — and keep his mouth shut.

    1. I don’t think fans would really mind his mouth if he produced on the field, the only issue is that his mouth was inversely proportional to his production most of the time; no one knew who he was in 2009 so he never talked and that’s when he really broke out and he talked the most in 2010-2011 when he was injured and recovering.

  14. For all the talent and size, speed Finley was supposed to have, NOT having a receiver’s hands hurt his ability to be THAT TE that was in the same category as a Gronk, Graham or Gonzalez. He just did NOT make a lot of catches that their athletic ability helped them make. You can point to two TD passes in ’12 season when Finley dropped TD’s in or on edge of endzone without a DB getting their hands on the ball. A Witten or Heath might’ve made those catches, Finley didn’t even with his size advantage. Still not convinced Quarless won’t get resigned at this point, Packers have approx $35 Million in cap space with increase.

Comments are closed.