With the departure of Robert Tonyan to the Chicago Bears, and Marcedes Lewis‘ future more than likely tied to that of Aaron Rodgers, the tight end situation for the Green Bay Packers went from middling to downright bad over the past week. There are a number of intriguing talents at tight end in next month’s draft. The Packers don’t necessarily need to make a move on one with their first selection at No. 15. However, Brian Gutekunst should be prepared to make the necessary moves to make sure that the team comes away with (at least) one of those players.
The current state of Green Bay’s depth chart at tight end is pretty grim. Tyler Davis and Josiah Deguara represent the only real NFL experience. A third-round pick out of Cincinnati in 2020, Deguara has only 39 catches for 371 yards and two touchdowns in 34 games over three seasons with the Packers. The Packers re-signed Davis last week, and he has contributed primarily on special teams (654 snaps) while adding only eight catches for 61 yards.
By almost all accounts, the tight end class in the upcoming draft is as good as any in recent memory. There are easily a half-dozen tight ends that could be difference-makers early on in their respective careers. As things currently stand, Green Bay will select at No. 15 overall, and then again in the middle of the second round at No. 45 overall. There are also some picks from the New York Jets that might make their way to Wisconsin in the not-so-distant future.
If the Packers absolutely love one of the tight ends — for example, Michael Mayer from Notre Dame — it would be justifiable to select him with the No. 15-overall pick. He’s the player most frequently mocked to Green Bay at that first-round draft slot, and would definitely fill a need with an extremely talented player.
If Gutekunst opts to go in a different direction such as edge rusher, offensive tackle, or wide receiver at No. 15, it’s not the end of the world. Mayer would be a great fit in Green Bay and is my preference for what the Packers do at the draft slot. But there’s a slew of tight ends right behind him who could still be available.
“I think the tight end group is the best I’ve seen in the last 10 years,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said on a conference call ahead of the NFL Combine. “I have 11 tight ends that I have top-three-round grades on, which is ridiculous number. It is just a really, really good group.”
That presents a simple solution to Green Bay’s problem. The Packers need a tight end, and there are good ones in the draft. Gutekunst just has to figure out a way to make it happen. Passing on a tight end in the first round isn’t a problem, but missing out on a run of tight ends between pick No. 15 and Green Bay’s second selection at pick No. 45 would be.
After Mayer, players like Dalton Kincaid (Utah), Luke Musgrave (Oregon State), Darnell Washington (Georgia), Sam LaPorta (Iowa), and Tucker Kraft (South Dakota State) all figure to hear their names called before Day 2 of the draft. Teams that fall in love with route-running may love Kincaid best. However, a guy like Washington (6’7”, 270 lbs.) feels like the second coming of a grizzly bear like Marcedes Lewis. LaPorta presents diversity within a route tree, while Musgrave might be the best athlete of the bunch.
Occasionally, there are runs on certain positions. It feels like tight end could go the same way this year, either late in the first round or early in the second, which would be the no-man’s land between the Packers’ first and second picks. If this happens, Gutekunst has to find a way to intervene, moving into position before it’s too late. It’s tough to say which order the tight ends will go in, and the Packers are so barren at the position that any of them could help. However, Gutekunst can’t let the top talent at this position all get away.
Why is the position so important? The Jordan Love-led Packers will look quite different than what Aaron Rodgers has been able to do over the last 15 years, and he’ll need all the options in his tool chest. They could conceivably run the offense through Aaron Jones — and A.J. Dillon, to a lesser extent. And Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs showed enough promise in their rookie seasons to give hope for an impressive sophomore campaign, too. Deguara brings versatility, but the allure of what he could become has started to fade in his fourth season.
Green Bay has a number of needs, but tight end is squarely one of them. Acquiring an extra pick (or a few picks) from the Jets would give the Packers more versatility, making grabbing a tight end even easier. It’s possible that the run on tight ends doesn’t happen too early, and the team can pluck one in the second round. But however the next month goes, one of Gutekunst’s focuses entering the draft should be to position Green Bay to nab one of the talented tight end prospects, wherever in the draft it may be.