There are myriad reasons the Green Bay Packers didn’t make the playoffs this season, and it’s unfair to point to one shortcoming as the defining reason. But one big factor on offense is that the team didn’t have enough playmakers.
Losing the league’s best wide receiver in Davante Adams and a speedy threat like Marquez Valdes-Scantling left the cupboard bare, and the Packers didn’t do enough to replace them. Rookie wideouts Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs showed promise, but rookies can’t be expected to carry an entire offense.
Outside of wide receivers, the Packers had talented running backs, but tight end was where the team showed its real lack of weapons. Big Bob Tonyan returned to the lineup after a torn ACL in 2021, but he was never a prominent part of the passing attack. Beyond Tonyan, there wasn’t much to write home about in terms of tight ends in the passing game.
The remaining four playoff teams have no lack of offensive weapons, including game-changing tight ends. Tight end is one of the biggest needs Green Bay needs to address in 2023, and these playoff offenses showcase just how impactful a good tight end can be.
Three of the four remaining playoff teams feature top-10 tight ends heavily used in their respective offenses.
Travis Kelce is easily the league’s best tight end. Of course, you can’t just say, “If I were the Packers, I would simply draft the next Travis Kelce.” But no one can deny Kelce’s impact. Like Green Bay, the Kansas City Chiefs lost their best wide receiver when Tyreek Hill went to Miami. But unlike in Green Bay, Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid made due thanks to Kelce.
To no one’s surprise, Kelce led the league’s tight ends in receiving yards (1,300) and touchdowns (12) this season, including adding two more TDs in Kansas City’s playoff victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Kelce is just as efficient as a blocker, able to affect a play even when he’s not the go-to guy.
George Kittle and Dallas Goedert also played huge roles in their respective offenses. Kittle finished the season with 765 yards and 11 TDs, while Goedert put up 702 yards and three touchdowns (and adding a fourth in the postseason).
Hayden Hurst doesn’t have quite the same pedigree as his Final Four peers. But in the Cincinnati Bengals’ high-powered passing offense with multiple dominant receivers, Hurst still had a respectable 414 yards and two TDs and added a third against the Buffalo Bills in the Divisional Round.
Going back to the divisional round teams, we saw Dawson Knox, Dalton Schultz, and Evan Engram play big roles for their teams all season. And even the fraudulent Minnesota Vikings made a big move to acquire T.J. Hockenson. Having a good tight end is, unsurprisingly, pretty helpful.
The Packers do not have a game-altering tight end.
In 2020, Tonyan broke out with 586 yards and 11 touchdowns, but that year might have been an anomaly. Tonyan lost some pep as he recovered from his ACL injury and never got back up to full speed, finishing the season with 470 yards and two touchdowns. Tonyan never seemed like a featured option in Matt LaFleur’s offense, although Rodgers often looked to him as a reliable first-down converter.
Green Bay’s other tight ends didn’t move the needle much in the passing game. Marcedes Lewis remains one of the league’s best blockers, and he’s like a sixth offensive lineman on the field. But the veteran isn’t often used as a receiving target. Josiah Deguara keeps showing promise as a blocker and did well in limited spurts as a receiver this season, but he can’t seem to get more opportunities. Tyler Davis exists. Only Deguara is signed through next season.
Other than one year of Tonyan, the Packers haven’t had a game-changing tight end since Jermichael Finley, and their efforts to find out haven’t borne fruit.
Green Bay’s offense needs a lot of work, but finding a true TE1 should be a priority for the team, no matter who the quarterback is. Depending on how Aaron Rodgers‘ situation plays out, there may not be much cap space available, and the Packers haven’t done amazingly well with finding free-agent tight ends beyond Lewis. Likewise, their draft efforts haven’t gone well in recent years.
But they’ll still need to try, and early reports on this year’s tight-end class are promising. It’s unlikely the Packers will spend a first-round pick on one, especially with a rare top-15 pick. But Day 2 should be filled with enticing options (to be discussed after I actually research them).
There’s always a lot for teams on the outside to learn from playoff teams, and the sheer amount of offensive weapons should be something to emulate. “Having good offensive players is actually good” isn’t a particularly profound realization. But after seeing so many tight ends help carry their teams on a playoff run, it’s clear Green Bay needs to do a better job finding one of their own.