The Packers addressed a lot of needs in free agency, but the team still has a plethora of holes to manage. For the first time in three years they didn’t make a major tight end signing, sticking with Jimmy Graham, who they signed to a multi-year deal last offseason, while bringing back Mercedes Lewis. Robert Tonyan is also likely to return, but the position isn’t without need. Graham and Lewis are on the back ends of their careers and Tonyan has yet to show he can be more than a quality backup tight end. The Packers have refused to address the position in recent drafts but that appears ready to change in 2019. There are several quality options at the top of the draft, and still more options in later rounds. Here’s a few names to pay attention to.
T.J. Hockenson – Iowa – 6-foot-5 – 251 pounds
A great blocker and receiver, Hockenson is everything you could want and more from a tight end. He’s a big bodied player who has no qualms about using his size to obliterate linebackers in the run game or coupling it with his great speed to take advantage of smaller or slower defenders. The lone chink in his armor appears to be the 4.7 second 40-yard dash he ran at the NFL combine, but his game tape shows a player who is faster than that with the ball in his hands. The only question about Hockenson is how high he’ll go. There’s a chance he’ll be off the board before the Packers pick at 12 and it would shock most talent evaluators if he somehow fell to the Packers second pick at 30 overall.
Noah Fant – Iowa – 6-foot-4 – 249 pounds
Iowa has a monopoly on the top tight ends in this class. Fant was the No. 2 tight end behind Hockenson at Iowa, but he’s no slouch. His abilities in the passing game could give him a higher ceiling than his former teammate, though his blocking isn’t quite as great. Want really made Fant jump off the page was the 4.5 second 40-yard dash he ran at the combine. To put that number in perspective, Marquez Valdes-Scantling is the only receiver on the Packers’ roster to run a faster 40 than Fant. His incredible straight line speed will make him a tough cover for linebackers, and his size will give him an advantage over cornerbacks and safeties. The other positive about Fant is he’s a top-flight talent that the Packers will likely be able to select at 30 overall, though there’s a chance he could get nabbed higher than that.
Irv Smith Jr. – Alabama – 6-foot-2 – 242 pounds
Smith is one of two tight ends that make the day two category but could potentially sneak into the back end of round one. The Alabama product was productive in college this past season, recording 710 yards and seven touchdowns on 44 receptions. He put up good physical numbers at the combine but nothing that blew evaluators away. What did separate him for yours truly was his gauntlet drill. That drill requires a player run on a straight line and catch passes from different directions in rapid succession. Most players weave, bobble a ball, drop a pass, or just struggle with the drill in some respect. Not Smith. He put together what may be the most impressive runs in the drill I’ve ever seen. Take a look.
Flawless rep by Irv Smith in the gauntlet. This is how it's done! pic.twitter.com/SXW38ViQY8
— Billy Marshall (@BillyM_91) March 2, 2019
That’s a natural pass catcher who could pair well with Aaron Rodgers. The Packers could potentially land Smith at pick 44.
Jace Sternberger – Texas A&M – 6-foot-4 – 251 pounds
Much like Smith, Sternberger could hear his name called near the back end of the first round. He had perhaps the most impressive stats of any of this years tight ends, recording 832 yards and 10 touchdowns on 48 catches in 2019. He’s got good hands and is another big bodied pass catcher, but he failed to wow at the combine and doesn’t have any traits that make him leapfrog any of the names ahead of him. He’ll need to work on his blocking abilities when he gets to the NFL as well. The Packers could look to snag Sternberger with the 44th overall pick.
Kaden Smith – Stanford – 6-foot-5 – 255 pounds
Kaden Smith is the first tight end that falls squarely in the Day Two category as it would be a shock to see him selected in the first round. He has great size, is a quality pass catcher, and a willing blocker. That being said, his 4.92 second 40-yard dash matched his tape speed in which he routinely failed to seperate from linebackers or secondary players. He’ll make his money off route running and effort, not off game breaking athleticism. If the Packers want Smith they can probably get him with their third-round selection (No. 75 overall) or even with a fourth round pick.
Dax Raymond – Utah State – 6-foot-5 – 255 pounds
Raymond is about what you expect out of an average NFL tight end. He doesn’t have great speed, he’s an okay blocker, and he doesn’t have any trait that makes him stand out from other tight ends in this class. What he does do is run reliable routes, show a willingness to block, and catch passes well enough to get by on an offense with a good quarterback. He’s got the tools to be better but he’ll need to piece it together at the next level. He’ll likely be available as a fourth-round pick if Green Bay wants him.
Foster Moreau – LSU – 6-foot-4 – 253 pounds
Moreau’s size and athleticism make him appear to be a phenomenal NFL prospect. At LSU he was a quality blocker but added little in the passing game. Last season he had 272 yards and two touchdowns on 22 receptions. He’s in the mold of Mercedes Lewis but without as much pass catching acumen. While he has a lot of potential, he doesn’t appear to be a player that will earn immediate play time with the Packers outside of special teams, which is why he’s a day three pick.
Dawson Knox – Ole Miss – 6-foot-4 – 254 pounds
Knox is a pretty similar player to Moreau, a good blocker who didn’t put up tremendous marks as a receiver. What puts Knox a slot below Moreau is his lack of quality metrics. He didn’t run the 40-yard dash at the combine and didn’t jump off the page in the tests he did do. He’s a round five or later tight end and likely a fringe roster player given the Packers’ current tight end depth.
Caleb Wilson – UCLA – 6-foot-4 – 240 pounds
Wilson had perhaps the most impressive stats from 2018 of any player on this list. He recorded 965 yards and four touchdowns on 60 receptions for UCLA this past season. His 4.56 second 40-yard dash was bested only by Noah Fant amongst tight ends as well. He leaves a lot to be desired as a blocker and he won’t be able to rely on athleticism in the NFL like he did in college. That being said, if he can develop as a route runner and blocker he could be a quality day three pickup for the Packers.
Keenan Brown – Texas State – 6-food-2 – 250 pounds
Brown put up decent marks as Texas State, though his competition was less than the peers above him currently. He recorded 577 yards and five touchdowns on 51 receptions in 2018, adding 75 yards rushing and two rushing touchdowns on eight carries. He leaves a lot to be desired in the blocking department and didn’t have great production prior to 2018, but his potential as a pass catcher is much greater than the rest of his Day Three peers. He could be a sneaky addition for the Packers in the fifth round or later.
Isaac Nauta – Georgia – 6-foot-3 – 244 pounds
Nauta looked like a future Day One or Two selection after his freshman year in 2016 but he failed to improve upon his impressive start. He ran a poor 40-yard dash (4.91 seconds) but looks faster than that on film. Much like Brown he looks like he could develop into a quality player but his inability to grow as tight end at Georgia doesn’t bode overly well for his professional prospects. He’s likely looking at a fifth-round selection at the highest.
Josh Oliver – San Jose State – 6-foot-5 – 249 pounds
Coming from James Jones’ alma mater, Oliver’s numbers and metrics compare favorably with Irv Smith Jr. Oliver is coming off of a 2018 season in which he recorded 709 yards and four touchdowns on 56 receptions. He’s not as bad of a blocker as Jimmy Graham but he’s also not a whole lot better. Like Brown and Nauta, Oliver could have high upside but he’s also got a low floor, which is why he projects as a fifth or sixth rounder at best and why he’s last on this list.
There are other tight ends that could hear their names called in April’s draft, but the 12 listed here are the best available. The top three names are the ones most mocked to the Packers in recent weeks and surely will continue to be as the weeks go on. If the team doesn’t view tight end to be as pressing a need as the fans do or comes away from the class unimpressed, we could see a player near the bottom of the list selected by Green Bay in favor of other positions higher up. As with any draft, and any offseason, the excitement here is in the plethora of options each team has.