This is the third in a series of stories that’s examining the Packers’ roster, position by position, leading up to the 2019 NFL Draft. The series continues with the wide receivers and tight ends.
GREEN BAY – The Packers are looking for another star receiver to pair with Davante Adams and a future No. 1 tight end for the long term.
One or both of those could be on the roster now, but the draft also could provide the Packers additional options.
The chances of having what they need on the roster now are far greater at receiver, where the Packers loaded up in the draft a year ago with a trio of third-day picks – J’Mon Moore in the fourth round, Marquez Valdes-Scantling in the fifth and Equanimeous St. Brown in the sixth.
Valdes-Scantling had the most productive rookie year (38 catches, 581 yards, two TDs) while St. Brown looked poised to break out at season’s end with his best game in Week 16 (five catches, 94 yards).
If one of them is ready to step fully into the void left by the departures of Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb over the last two years, no one will complain. Fourth-year pro Geronimo Allison is also firmly in that mix after starting last season with some big numbers, catching 19 passes for 289 yards and two TDs through four games before injuries cut short a promising year.
The rest of the depth chart includes a couple of veterans in Jake Kumerow and Trevor Davis, plus younger prospects in Moore, Allen Lazard and Teo Redding.
The depth and reinforcements are there in numbers, but the question is whether there’s a playmaking star for the No. 2 spot. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has worked with various such pairings over his career – Greg Jennings with Donald Driver or Nelson, Nelson or Cobb with James Jones, Nelson with Cobb or Adams.
Last year, the top duo was supposed to be Adams and Cobb, but injuries limited Cobb to just nine games and Allison was hurt as well.
Which brings us to the here and now. With Adams coming off a career-best 111 catches for 1,386 yards and 13 TDs – the first two numbers both challenging but falling short of Nelson’s single-season franchise records when Adams missed the season finale – he has declared himself the Packers’ next superstar at the position.
The Packers have been at their best when the No. 2 wasn’t just a complement to the top guy but another star in the making. Allison, Valdes-Scantling and St. Brown are viable candidates and will get their chances in 2019 to prove themselves, but spending a high pick at receiver would be a way for the Packers to hedge their bets on who the next Nelson or Cobb or Adams might be.
The future at tight end appears even more wide open.
Veterans Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis are back for second seasons with the Packers after initially coming to Green Bay as free agents in 2018.
Graham made no secret of not being thrilled with his production from a year ago, which wasn’t bad (55 catches, 636 yards, two TDs) but less than he wanted. Graham’s numbers did increase in his second year with Seattle after he signed there as a free agent. Lewis was barely used in the passing game, though that could change under new Head Coach Matt LaFleur.
The more pointed issue is developing a No. 1 tight end for down the road. The one possible candidate currently on the roster is former undrafted free agent Robert Tonyan, but other than his impressive 54-yard touchdown catch from Rodgers on a scramble play in Seattle in Week 11 last year, there’s not much else to go on.
Tonyan was a receiver in college, so it’s rounding out all the blocking responsibilities at tight end that could take some time, and he’ll have to learn a new offense now as well. The only other tight end on the roster is Evan Baylis, a Week 17 arrival to the practice squad last season who entered the league undrafted out of Oregon in 2017.
With a draft that appears fairly deep at tight end, the Packers may target that prospect for the future this year. Green Bay has chosen just one tight end in the last four drafts (Kennard Backman, sixth round, 2015), and he never played regularly, one reason for the spending on veteran free agents recently.
This draft has two prospects being talked about as first-rounders, T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant, both from Iowa. Only once in the last dozen years have two tight ends been drafted in the first round, and other projected Day 2 selections await behind them.
The future could be now at tight end for the Packers.