On paper, the Green Bay Packers got a ton of value from the 2022 NFL Draft.
While draft grades are mixed, they don’t really mean much. The Packers used their 11 selections to address multiple needs while still building for the future. Wide receiver was a massive gap on the roster, and Brian Gutekunst responded by drafting three wideouts with different playing styles. They addressed run defense, a long-standing issue, early. They bolstered the offensive line after pushing its depth to the limits last season. Special teams got some exciting players for new coordinator Rich Bisaccia to work with.
The tight end group is one area of need the Packers could not address, though. It may seem like a luxury considering the team’s ability to address other concerns. Green Bay got three new pass-catchers, after all. But despite having five guys on the roster they really like, depth at the position is a worry, especially beyond 2022.
Trading both of their late-second-round picks meant Gutekunst had a long drought between selections. The Packers took Christain Watson with the 34th-overall pick. The next player they drafted, Sean Rhyan, saw his name called at 92nd. That’s a long time between selections, and the tight ends started falling off the board in that stretch.
Starting in the middle of the second round, the Arizona Cardinals drafted the consensus best tight end, Colorado State’s Trey McBride. The Indianapolis Colts took Jelani Woods, a fan favorite for the Packers, due to his similarities to Marcedes Lewis, in Round 3. UCLA’s The Denver Broncos selected Greg Dulcich shortly after.
The Packers took Rhyan late in the third round, and the top tight targets kept getting scooped up. Five more tight ends got plucked between Green Bay’s selection of Rhyan and their first fourth-round selection, Romeo Doubs. Green Bay would exit the draft without a new TE.
Following the draft, Gutekunst said he was happy with the group he has on the roster. He praised Tyler Davis especially, who joined the team early last season and showed some nice flashes.
“I think we might have something there,” Gutekunst said.
The Packers have potential in their tight end room. But they also have plenty of questions.
Marcedes Lewis appears to be TE1 entering the 2022 season. The Big Dog is as reliable as they come and has been one of the best pass-blocking tight ends in the league since the late Bush administration. But he’ll be 38 later this month, and it’s fair to wonder how much longer he’ll want to keep playing. His fumble in last year’s divisional-round game aside, keep the Big Dog around as long as he wants to play. Still, it’s wise to start preparing for life after him.
This season will be a big year for former third-round pick Josiah Deguara. Despite plenty of chances to show his skills, Deguara is still a relative unknown. Plagued by early injuries and some unfortunate drops, the former Bearcat was not one of Aaron Rodgers‘ favorite targets by the end of last season. That said, Year 3 is significant for many young players, especially tight ends. Teams ask them to do a lot. Ideally, things click for Deguara, and he becomes the featured tight end of the future. But there are no guarantees.
Dominique Dafney showed a lot of promise as a development tight end and can play the H-back role that thrives in the Matt LaFleur offense, but he also had unfortunate injury luck last season.
As mentioned above, Davis was specifically called out by Gutekunst as a promising developing talent. Davis showed flashes while filling in for injured players. Could he take a leap and become a Robert Tonyan-like surprise as he enters his third NFL season?
Speaking of Tonyan: Ideally, he recovers well from his knee injury and takes over as TE1 midseason. Tonyan’s future is the biggest wild card in the entire room. In 2020, he was one of the league’s best scoring tight ends and had the most-reliable hands on the team. It was always expecting too much that Tonyan would repeat his touchdown dominance in 2021, but his hands became less reliable, and his blocking regressed. Just when it looked like his season was starting to turn around, he suffered a torn ACL.
Entering this season with a one-year deal, the Packers will hope Tonyan bounces back from the injury and plays a productive role in the offense. A good year could lead to a long-term deal and stability in the position. A poor one could lead to an unfortunate split.
The league has very few elite, do-it-all tight ends, and the Shanahan offense doesn’t need one to function. While Kyle Shanahan has George Kittle, one of the best in the league, LaFleur and Sean McVay have had elite offenses without many household names at the position. But a versatile tight end is a valuable addition for an offense that wants to be predicated on the run game and rely on outsmarting opponents.
The Packers are currently gambling on developmental pieces, a savvy veteran, and a proven weapon coming back from a major injury to produce in their tight end group. That may work in 2022, especially if one of the younger guys takes a step up. But there is nothing but uncertainty in 2023 and beyond, and tight end may be one of the roster’s most extensive needs.