GREEN BAY – Four years ago, Jace Sternberger wouldn’t have believed any of this was possible.
Not the consensus All-American nod. Not the third-round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft. Not the opportunity to catch passes from two-time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Yet, on the heels of a remarkable season at Texas A&M, the 6-foot-4, 251-pound tight end realized a once-unfathomable dream Friday when the Packers drafted Sternberger with the 75th overall pick.
The sixth tight end taken in this year’s draft, Sternberger is the first the Packers have selected at the position since Kennard Backman in 2015.
Asked whether any of this would’ve been conceivable a year ago, Sternberger laughs while admitting: “Not at all.”
“If you were to tell me (then) that Aaron Rodgers would be my quarterback in about four years, I would have laughed at you and called you a liar,” Sternberger said. “But it’s why you prepare the way you do and God is great.”
Those familiar with Sternberger’s story understand this overnight success was years in the making. A two-star recruit out of high school, Sternberger weathered three different offensive coordinators in two years at the University of Kansas, catching a single pass as a redshirt freshman.
Looking for a chance at a fresh start, he transferred to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M in 2017. After catching 21 passes for 336 yards and six touchdowns, Sternberger caught the eye of FBS programs throughout the country and Jimbo Fisher, who recruited him to play at Texas A&M.
Sternberger made significant strides in College Station. He filled into his body, captured the Aggies’ starting tight end job and earned consensus All-American honors with 48 catches for 832 yards (17.3 yards per catch) and 10 TDs in 13 games.
Seen as a strong route-runner with slot flexibility, Sternberger launched himself onto the Packers’ radar. Co-director of player personnel Jon-Eric Sullivan saw “a late-bloomer” who only recently grew into his full frame.
“He was a riser at Texas A&M,” Sullivan said. “(He) didn’t have much of a career at Kansas, moved onto junior college and kind of burst on the scene this year. Charles Walls went through there, who is our area scout, did a lot of work on him, did a really good job. And then I went through there myself, and we were very pleased with what we found.”
Green Bay did its due diligence on Sternberger from beginning to end, using one of its 60 official interviews at the NFL Scouting Combine on the young tight end and then bringing him in as one of the team’s 30 pre-draft visits.
The attention left an impression on Sternberger, who appreciated the organization’s “family atmosphere.” He enjoyed time spent with the coaches and scouts, and hoped for a reunion on draft weekend.
Take a look at Packers TE during his college career.
Sternberger ran a 4.75-second time in the 40-yard dash in Indianapolis, but General Manager Brian Gutekunst said the Packers clocked him at one point at 4.66.
He jokes his penchant for running downfield routes stems from getting in trouble as a kid growing up in Kingfisher, Okla. Either way, he was a dynamic force in the Aggies’ offense last season.
Green Bay’s personnel department feels Sternberger has the necessary tools to make a Year 1 impact, but he also has the benefit of time with a pair of Pro Bowl tight ends in Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis to learn from.
“What better opportunity can you have?” Sternberger said. “As a young tight end, everybody’s mindset is you want to be the next big thing, and what better way to do it than with Marcedes and then Jimmy Graham – two guys who’ve had an amazing career in the NFL.”
Sternberger knows his sensational season doesn’t make a career. To continue his climb, he must hone his blocking and show his big-play ability in the Southeastern Conference can translate to the NFC North.
He looks forward to that challenge. While Sternberger doesn’t like to compare himself to other tight ends, he is a product of his path and ever confident in his abilities.
It’s that confidence that pushed Sternberger to spread his wings four years ago and what makes him eager to prove he’s the best tight end in one of the deepest classes over the past 25 years.
“I feel like you can talk so much, but at the end of the day, it’s what you show,” Sternberger said. “I have that big chip on my shoulder. I mean, there’s a reason I left early – because I felt like I was the best tight end in this draft class.
“So I have a lot of work to prove out for me, but I’ve always been in a situation where I want to take challenges head-on and that’s what I plan to do here, and just prove to Green Bay they made the right pick.”