If there’s one position group that has been consistently disappointing and inert during the Aaron Rodgers era, for whatever reason, it’s the tight end position. Since 2018, Jimmy Graham has been the Packers starting tight-end but not even he was enough to make much of an impact, and he signed with Chicago during the off-season.
Along with 14-year veteran Mercedes Lewis, who resigned in the off season, the Packers tight-end core consists of young, mostly unknown talent. There’s also been talk of Matt LaFleur planning to assert more of his offensive flavor into the playbook which would dramatically change the role of the tight-end in Green Bay. This was made obvious with the third-round selection of Josiah Deguara in the 2020 NFL Draft.
So with that all being said, let’s take a look at the TE position going into training camp.
Over the last two seasons, Robert Tonyan has been a role player who has shown flashes of being a decent TE or large target for Aaron Rodgers. In the 11 games he played last season, he only had 10 catches for 100 yards and one touchdown but he was behind Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis on the depth chart. Tonyan missed some time last season thanks to a Week 5 hip injury and when he returned, he never seemed 100%.
In 2020 I expect more from Tonyan now with Graham gone. With LaFleur transitioning to a power-run offense, Tonyan should see a receiving role at tight-end. While I don’t expect to see much of that at the beginning of the season because of the next person I’ll talk about, he should be there by the second half.
Playing professional football since 2006, Lewis is a tremendous player to have back because the Packers are transitioning to a more power-run offense, and the position lacks experience. As a blocker, his role will be important, but as a veteran and presence in the locker-room, his role is vital.
Expect to see him a lot in a blocking role this season. I could see him starting the season as our TE1 just because of the experience factor but that will change quickly once Tonyan and Sternberger establish themselves as reliable pass-catching options.
The consensus favorite to be “the guy” at tight-end this season, Sternberger will be given a huge opportunity, but he has a ton to prove. In his final season of college at Texas A&M in 2018, he was one of the nation’s top tight-ends which earned him a third-round selection by the Packers in 2019. A preseason ankle injury forced him on injured-reserve and it essentially ended his season before it began. He did have one lone highlight catching a two-yard touchdown in the NFC Championship game.
Sternberger is expected to be the Packers TE1 and the number one receiving option at TE. He is not exceptionally tall for a TE, but his abilities as a pass-catcher made him a standout at Texas A&M. Early in the season, I expect Lewis to be the number one pass-catching option at TE based on experience, and that role will be slowly relinquished to Sternberger by Week 4. If Sternberger has an impressive camp and preseason, he could very well start the season as the Packers TE1.
Among the shocking picks of the Packers 2020 NFL Draft was Deguara in the third round. In college at Cincinnati, his stats were sub-par with 1,117 yards receiving and 14 touchdowns in four years. To be fair to his collegiate career, he did win First-Team All-AAC his senior season.
Soon after he was selected along with the second-round selection of RB A.J. Dillon, it was made clear that Matt LaFleur is transitioning his offense to a more power-run style. LaFleur did this in Tennessee and it led to the emergence of Derrick Henry. Deguara was also an exceptional blocker in college; those are probably the reasons for his higher than expected selection. He will play the role of a blocking TE in power-run schemes, probably when AJ Dillon is in. Don’t expect to see him with the football in his hands a lot because that’s not what he’s there for.
A former Oregon Duck, Baylis has been a journeyman TE since 2017 making and being waived from NFL rosters. In late 2018, he signed with the Packers’ practice squad, waived, signed again, and finally made it to the active roster in October 2019. At 6’5, 250lb, he has good size and could possibly be used as a blocker. Based on his history of consistently being cut and signed by teams, his chance of making the 53-man roster is slim. It mostly depends on if the Packers want to have five TEs instead of four.
The Packers picked Looney in the seventh round of the 2018 draft as a defensive end. After being waived and signed to the Packers’ practice squad in 2019, Looney was converted into a TE. It’ll be super interesting to see if he just makes the active roster, and if he does, how he’ll be used. At 6’3, 255lb, he’s an inch taller and 20 lb. heavier than Deguara so he has potential as a blocker. As a pass-catcher, he is completely unknown. If the Packers decide to go with five TEs on their final 53-man roster I could see him staying over Baylis.