It’s evident tight end will be a major need for the Green Bay Packers next year. So far, Josiah Deguara is the only player who finished last season on the 53-man roster and is still under contract. Austin Allen and Nick Guggemos signed future deals, but no Packers tight end is under contract beyond 2023, and the current options on the roster are limited. Even if the Packers decide to re-sign some of their old friends, Robert Tonyan had 63 targets in 2022 but averaged 1.27 yards per route run. And Marcedes Lewis is nothing more than a glorified tackle at this point in his career.
Therefore, it’s clear the Packers must add to the room. However, recent history suggests that teams should not draft tight ends in the first round.
These are the tight ends drafted in the first round in the last 10 years:
- 2013: Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals
- 2014: Eric Ebron, Detroit Lions
- 2017: O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- 2017: Evan Engram, New York Giants
- 2017: David Njoku, Cleveland Browns
- 2018: Hayden Hurst, Baltimore Ravens
- 2019: T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions
- 2019: Noah Fant, Denver Broncos
- 2021: Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons
While there are some good names out there, it’s fair to say that no one lived up to a first-round performance. Kyle Pitts still has a chance. He had a prolific rookie year in 2021 but regressed last season.
Among the 10 highest-paid tight ends in the NFL on average per year, there are more undrafted free agents (Cameron Brate and Taysom Hill) than first-rounders in the top 10. David Njoku is the only first-rounder, and he’s far from being a game-changer for the Cleveland Browns.
So there’s a sweet spot. Four of the 10 highest-paid tight ends are third-rounders. In that regard, Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst has had a good process, but the results haven’t been great. Since he was promoted to GM in 2018, he drafted two tight ends, and both were taken in the third round: Jace Sternberger (2019) and Josiah Deguara (2020).
Gutekunst was highly praised for the Sternberger selection, but he was a huge disappointment. Green Bay waived him during his third season, and he’s had stints with the Seattle Seahawks, Washington Commanders, and Pittsburgh Steelers – all of them without regular-season opportunities. Now, he’s a member of the Birmingham Stallions of the USFL.
Deguara has been better than Sternberger, but not by a large margin. He’s entering his fourth year in the league, the final of his rookie contract, and totaled 371 yards and two touchdowns. Those are not an average per season, but the total numbers of his first three years in Green Bay. So, while he’s an effective blocker coming out of the backfield and plays as a de facto fullback/h-back, his production so far hasn’t justified a Day 2 pick in the draft.
Still, it’s always important to remember that processes are more important than short-term results in team-building in the long run, and Gutekunst has taken the correct approach with tight ends.
This offseason, I’ve written that it’s important to add a veteran because young tight ends take some time to develop in the NFL. It’s one of the most complex positions in football, because of how many roles a tight end has on the offense. But it’s also imperative to find a long-term answer, and Gutekunst doesn’t need to spend a first-round pick to get one.
According to Michael Renner’s list of TE prospects on PFF, there are good names that should be available on Day 2:
- Luke Musgrave
- Dalton Kincaid
- Darnell Washington
- Sam LaPorta
- Cade Stover
- Tucker Kraft
- Brevyn Spann-Ford
- Davis Allen
- And Will Mallory
Sure-fire top prospects like Eric Ebron, T.J. Hockenson, and Kyle Pitts haven’t turned out to be difference-makers in the NFL. Therefore, the Packers should understand that mid-round picks have as much of a chance to be effective and use higher picks on more valuable positions.