Packers offseason preview: Getting younger at tight end

The Packers will reportedly hang on to Jimmy Graham for at least one more season.
(Greg M. Cooper/USA Today sports)

The offseason position previews continue with the tight ends. Here’s a quick rundown of where the roster stands as of today:

Jimmy Graham (32, 10th NFL season)

Lance Kendricks (31, ninth NFL season)

Marcedes Lewis (34, 14th NFL season)

Robert Tonyan (24, second NFL season)

Evan Baylis (25, second NFL season)

Of the four tight ends on this list that played meaningful snaps for the Packers in 2019, three are slated to become free agents come March: Kendricks (UFA), Lewis (UFA) and Tonyan (ERFA). The other, Graham, has been the subject of much fan speculation as it relates to whether or not Green Bay should move on from him after a disappointing first season with the team. That speculation was halted somewhat during super bowl week, when it was reported the Packers do intend on keeping the 32-year old veteran around for at least one more year.

Any way you cut it, the Packers probably need to turn an eye toward acquiring younger, more dynamic talent at tight end. The team is likely hoping a second year with Aaron Rodgers will help Graham develop more chemistry with the quarterback. Graham, though, isn’t getting any younger, and didn’t nearly live up to his billing as a lethal red zone weapon. Graham caught just three passes all year in the red zone, though two of those went for touchdowns—his only two scores of the season.

Lewis and Kendricks are, in many ways, in the same boat as they approach free agency. Both provide adequate frames and fairly reliable hands that can make them functional multi-use players. Neither, however, possesses the kind of dynamic athleticism that can truly worry opposing defenses. Lewis’ age will likely be working against him, and it’s fair to think Matt LaFleur and Brian Gutekunst might want to open up a roster spot or two for younger options. The “veteran presence” card could still be played, but I wonder whether the brass will deem it necessary to occupy two tight end spots simply to keep a veteran presence in the room.

Tonyan is an interesting case. The 24-year old set Packers Twitter afire with his 54-yard touchdown reception against Seattle, but received very little opportunity throughout the balance of the season. Tonyan played just 67 offensive snaps in 2018—good for just over six percent of the Packers’ 1,074 snaps—and caught four of six targets for 77 yards. His age and exclusive rights status make him a much more likely bet to be back in Green Bay in 2019.

In the early stages of Draft Season, you’d be hard-pressed to find a mock draft that doesn’t have the Packers selecting a tight end in the first round. The two most popular names are a pair of Hawkeyes, T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant, both of whom possess a plus-level of athleticism and are willing to get their hands dirty in the running game. While I’m not going to advocate for certain picks before doing more homework, that is certainly the type of player that could make a significant impact for the Packers going forward.

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