It's been running joke that the current leadership of the Green Bay Packers have enjoyed collecting talent at the Tight End spot. This came to a head last year when the Packers kept 5 TE's on the roster after drafting two TE's (Ryan Taylor and D.J. Williams), having a promising young talent in Jermichael Finely and a second promising receiving TE drafted the year before (Andrew Quarless) and then another guy hanging around as a part of the core special teams squad and blocking well (Tom Crabtree). Through out the year Finley stayed healthy and put up a generally acceptable year, Taylor became the blocking / special teams player he was expected to be, Crabtree stayed the same guy he always was as a blocker and special teams player as well, D.J. Williams did next to nothing catching two passes and not really contributing on special teams, and Quarless got injured after looking like things were coming together for him.
This year all of those guys return in some way shape or form and the Packer brought in a couple undrafted rookies as well. Unlike last year though, it's doubtful that the Packers keep all five of these guys again due to pressure coming from other positions. Probably the most notable issue is the glut of talent at WR, but the volume of players on the DL and OT positions also make keeping 5 TE's around unlikely.
What makes this camp battle unique though is the fact that the final decision may not be felt at the normal cut down time period. Quarless looks to be still recovering from his injury and so is probably fated to start the year on the PUP. As a result, all of the players from last year will probably be on the roster again at the start of the year. Don't let this fool you into thinking that jobs aren't on the line though. Guys like Crabtree and Williams will need to show that they can be contributors early and often in training camp. These guys will need to produce in the preseason as well. The reps and balls getting thrown their way will probably not come too often in the regular season, so any impression made in training camp will carry over until week six with Quarless will be reactivated.
So let's meet our contenders for any open TE roster spots....
The Survivor: Tom Crabtree
Biggest reason he will make the team: He knows his role. I don't know what to tell you for why Tom Crabtree is still a member of the Green Bay Packers. Right now he is one of those guys who works hard, found a niche, does it reasonably well, and just holds on. My hats off to him for this because the guy is living the dream...and seems like a pretty cool guy. If Crabtree can stay an important special team player and improve his blocking a bit then there is no reason why he shouldn't stay on the roster.
Biggest reason he won't make the team: Ryan Taylor does his job better. Can anyone tell me the difference between Crabtree and Taylor? I mean besides the number on their jersey and the fact that Crabtree is the one that looks like a sterotypical henchman in a comic book movie. They both do the same thing and I'm not sure the the Packers need them both. They might...you need only so many skill players and the Packers have plenty, some more blockers might be good. Then again, if I had a choice between Crabtree and Gurley or Hargrove I would probably chose against Crabtree.
Tom Crabtree's Stunt Double: Ryan Taylor
Biggest reason he will make the team: He knows his role...and was drafted to fill it. If the choice comes down between Crabtree and Taylor then Taylor probably has the edge. He probably has a slightly larger ceiling than Crabtree and was drafted to basically do the job that Crabtree was already doing.
Biggest reason he won't make the team: Tom Crabtree does the job better. Potential is all well and good, but when it comes down to a nitty gritty job like blocking and special teams teams care more about performance than how good a player you may become. Whoever does the job better will win.
The Man of Mystery: D.J. Williams
Biggest reason why he will make the team: He becomes who he is supposed to be. Williams was an interesting draft pick last year. One of the most productive TE's in the nation. He looked like a dynamic option for the offense at either a traditional TE or a more hybrid H-back role that Kuhn seems to do often. Unfortunately he didn't take the league by storm. Now I don't hold that against him, it's unreasonable to expect a 5th round draft choice to be a contender for rookie of the year. Heck, Finley himself was awful his first year too. So was Quarless. Williams gets a pass for last year.
Biggest reason why he won't make the team: He stayed who he was last year. Sure last year he gets a pass. Then again, if he doesn't show something this year in camp he won't have a job long. Quarless looks to be coming back this year and he is going to need a roster spot when he does come back. Williams not a special teams guy, he's not known as a good blocker, that means he has to show that he can catch and make things happen. The best chance for him to do that is in camp because once the season starts it's going to be too late.
Biggest reason why one will make the team: A miracle. Stranger things have happened. I honestly don't know much about either of these two, but right now it looks like these guys are going to be competing against two guys who are good in heavy sets and special teams and two guys who are receiving threats. That doesn't leave much room, but stranger things have happened. A big play here, a key block there, and suddenly these guys are folk heroes with a fan base pining for their roster spot. Vic So'oto, Sam Shields, Frank Zombo, Spencer Havner, and Tom Crabtree made it on to the roster in a similar fashion.
Biggest reason why neither will make the team: Reality. These are two undrafted guys competing for a spot on an already overloaded position group. It looks like all the niches have been filled....sometimes twice over. Stranger things have happened though.
The Final Twist: Nic Cooper
Recently Kevin predicted who is going to make it at FB. He didn't think think Cooper would make the team, and that makes sense. However, Cooper is an awful lot like John Kuhn. Both played tailback in small programs. Both don't have the top speed to really be a tailback in the NFL, but they do have the toughness and ball skills to do all sorts of things. If the Packers are intrigued by Cooper then it may not be a total shock for them to keep two FB. This would probably come at the expense of a TE since the Packers have had a habit of keeping around 5-6 total FB's and TE's the last few years. Cooper may the reason the Packers keep only one of the combination of Crabtree and Taylor, or his ball skills could make Williams expendable until Quarless returns.