Countdown to Camp: Packers trusting draft-and-develop process with young tight ends

Josiah Deguara, Jace Sternberger fit the vision of Matt LaFleur’s offense

TE Jace Sternberger

Countdown to Camp is a series of stories examining the Packers' roster, position by position, leading up to training camp. The fourth installment features the tight ends.

GREEN BAY – After going the veteran free-agent route for the past several years, the Packers have gone back to their draft-and-develop roots at the tight end position.

This past April, Green Bay made a significant investment in its future at tight end with the third-round selection of Cincinnati's Josiah Deguara.

It marked the first time in franchise history the Packers have taken a tight end in the opening three rounds in consecutive drafts, having also drafted Texas A&M's Jace Sternberger in the third round a year ago.

In Sternbeger and Deguara, the Packers feel they have two versatile playmakers who fit the vision of Head Coach Matt LaFleur's offense. And both could see extensive action in 2020, following the release of Jimmy Graham this past March.

A quick study, Sternberger caught 47 passes for 804 yards and 10 touchdowns during his only season at Texas A&M to catapult himself up draft boards among a deep 2019 class of tight ends.

The 6-foot-4, 252-pounder came to Green Bay with high expectations before a jaw injury and concussion suffered during a joint practice with the Houston Texans sidelined him for most of training camp.

Sternberger returned for the preseason finale against Kansas City, catching a touchdown in the 27-20 win, but sustained an ankle injury that landed him on injured reserve to start the year.

Activated midseason, Sternberger saw his role expand over the final two months of the season. He displayed toughness and unexpected blocking prowess in spot duty as an H-back in December following a knee injury to fullback Danny Vitale.

Deguara (6-2, 238) is seen as a Swiss-army-knife playmaker who blurs the lines between tight end and fullback, both positions of need after Graham's departure and Vitale signing with New England as a free agent.

An accomplished pass-catcher, Deguara lined up everywhere for Cincinnati on his way to becoming only the second tight end in Cincinnati program history to eclipse 1,000 yards receiving for his career (1,117). His 92 career receptions are the most among Bearcats tight ends.

The following is the fourth installment in a series of photos examining the Packers' roster position by position. This installment examines the tight ends.

While most tight ends tend to have a big learning curve in transitioning from college to the pros, Deguara's unique skill set could help the 23-year-old buck that rookie trend.

The Packers also return veteran Marcedes Lewis and Robert Tonyan, both of whom have been on the team's active roster the past two seasons.

Lewis, who turned 36 in May, remains one of the league's preeminent blocking tight ends entering his 16th NFL season. Along with being a locker-room leader, the 6-foot-6, 267-pound veteran saw his pass-catching numbers jump during his first year in LaFleur's scheme.

Tonyan, entering his third season, completed his transition from receiver to tight end last year and figured to be a key offensive contributor before injuring his hip following 23-yard catch along the sideline last October in Dallas. He battled the injury for the remainder of the season, missing five games along the way.

In addition to his 14 career catches for 177 yards and two TDs, Tonyan has been a mainstay on Green Bay's special-teams units over the past two seasons.

While Tonyan and Sternberger were out, the Packers elevated 6-foot-5, 250-pound tight end Evan Baylis from the practice squad to be their No. 3 behind Graham and Lewis. Baylis played in three games for Green Bay, primarily on special teams, before finishing the year on the practice squad.

Joining Baylis on the practice squad was former seventh-round pick James Looney, who shifted from defensive line to tight end last season after impressing the coaching staff on the scout team.

Looney, who was listed at 6-3, 287, was drafted two years ago in part because of his eye-catching measureables at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

He ranked in the top 10 amongst defensive linemen in several categories, including second in the short-shuttle (4.37 seconds) and third in the vertical jump (35½ inches). Looney trained this offseason with the full intention of tight end being his primary position moving forward.

With tight end expected to be a focal point of the offense moving forward, Green Bay is putting its faith in potential over proven production with its young players. Aside from Lewis, the rest of the Packers' tight ends possess only 41 combined games of NFL experience (including postseason).

Countdown to Camp series

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