The tight end rotation is puzzling to say the least. This tight end group was thought to be one of the strong points of the offense before the year started. The Packers made a big splash signing with Jimmy Graham, a very solid singing bringing in Marcedes Lewis, Lance Kendricks returning for his second season in Green Bay, and the emergence of Robert Tonyan in the preseason. Each of these guys brings something different and unique to the table, and the fun part was the thought of all the different formations the Packers could run with these versatile tight ends. The Packers even kept all four on the 53 man roster instead of keeping a fullback. However, the usage of the tight end group in the season has been underwhelming.
The Packers could easily have two tight ends on the field whenever they want. Jimmy Graham (6’7”, 265lbs) is listed as a tight end, but he is really a giant wide receiver. Graham is basically wide receiver number two. He is not an in-line blocker, and the extent of his blocking is going one on one with Kyler Fackrell in training camp. This is why they went and got Marcedes Lewis (6’6”, 267lbs) who is probably the best blocking tight end in the league. As much as Graham is another receiver on the field, Lewis is another lineman on the field. But, let’s not sell either of these guys short. Graham can step in and block from time to time, and Lewis is more than capable of catching the ball and making plays. These are two unique players the Packers are lucky to have grabbed in free agency.
Lance Kendricks (6’3”, 250lbs) and Robert Tonyan (6’5”, 237lbs) are a little bit of a different story. Kendricks had a hot start to begin his career and then slowly declined. He did not have the resurgence the Packers hoped he would last season. He was average, and he continues to be average at best this season. He is an inconsistent player that is having trouble finding his edge. Tonyan is still a very young player, and he started to make a name for himself this preseason. He made the splash plays with his hands that kept him around on the 53 man roster, but he has plenty of room to grow overall as a tight end. These are two players at opposite ends of their career trying to find out who they are as a player.
Common sense would tell you to play Graham and Lewis while having Tonyan learn from both of them. It is a great opportunity for Tonyan to learn from two guys who have perfected their craft and hopefully become a great overall tight end of the future. As for Kendricks, he would be on the bubble of staying on the roster. However, this is not the case.
Graham does get a good majority of the snaps, but he is asked to stay in-line and block far too often. He is a living mismatch and should be used as one. The opposing defense will have to start tilting coverage which will leave Adams one on one to criminally abuse his defender. Graham and Adams are each other’s best friend on the field. Then, this opens the door for guys like Cobb, Allison, and even MVS. They need to start implementing him into the game plan early.
Lewis is only seeing spot play and is being very under used. He needs to be the guy that replaces the fullback, since one was not kept on the roster, in the two back sets. He can be used in-line or any way to block considering he has made a career out of it. The other huge benefit Lewis brings to Rodgers and the offense is the ability for play action. His blocking only opens doors for more play action. With Aaron Jones being Aaron Jones, Lewis could make a killing on play action. I also trust him to block any defender one on one to protect Rodgers. It is a great mystery to me as to why he is not getting more playing time.
Why Lance Kendricks gets any more than a few snaps on offense really confuses me. He is very inconsistent in his blocking and catching. He has dropped huge passes this year, and even when he did catch a few balls last week he looked very uncomfortable. Kendricks has not done anything to deserve more snaps, yet he keeps getting snaps. He is used a lot as the fullback. If Lewis is not capable for some reason to fill that role, then they need to sign a fullback who is reliable. He is really playing his way out of the offense and possibly out of Green Bay.
Robert Tonyan is sitting in a position to slowly earn valuable snaps. He needs to continue to play well on special teams, but practice is huge for him learning from Graham and Lewis. If Kendricks keeps playing himself out of the offense, Tonyan could find himself as the third tight end. He is in a very similar position as Geronimo Allison earlier in his career. He earned Rodgers trust early and it has paid him dividends. Tonyan needs to keep growing, and he could find himself playing down the stretch.
The Packers need to figure out this rotation very soon. This group could greatly benefit them, but if they continue to over think the situation they will keep wasting talent and meaningful reps from more deserving players. They have a passing game coordinator, a run game coordinator, an offensive coordinator, and McCarthy who has his input. It is about time they put their heads together and get these little things fixed before it really ends up hurting them.