The Green Bay Packers' tight end position goes into the 2013 off-season much the way it did in 2012: with a number of question marks and several players who make the fans and coaches want more from them. However, it looks at this point like little will change at that position, with four of the five players remaining signed for next year. There's loads of athletic ability all over the place, but injuries and inconsistency have kept the players at this position from tapping into their full potential, which leads many to think that one tight end in particular will be released before the season starts.
Signed for 2013:
I'm not one who thinks that Finley is going to be released before the start of the season. Realistically, he showed enough down the stretch in 2013 that he's worth one final test here in 2013. If at that point the Packers don't feel like he's worth the money that he'll demand in free agency, then they can let him walk, but with Greg Jennings likely departing the team will need Finley's presence to help bust Cover-2 defenses.
Many of us had high hopes for Quarless this season, but his injury kept him off the field for the whole year. He needs to go through the 2013 season in one productive piece, because if he doesn't start to produce he'll likely be on the chopping block. That said, Quarless' tools are impressive and it will be exciting to see what he can do with a full off-season and a clean bill of health.
Williams came around better as a blocker in 2012, but wasn't as involved as a receiver as we expected him to be, catching only seven passes for 57 yards. Considering that was supposed to be his strong point coming out of Arkansas two years ago, he has certainly not lived up to his billing either.
Finally we get to Taylor, who makes a living on special teams. He'll be back for that reason, regardless of his offensive production (which was limited). He was okay as a run blocker, and caught just one pass for 11 yards in the blowout of the Titans. Basically, Taylor wasn't involved in the passing game at all.
Position Grade: B-
There's depth here and a lot of potential as I mentioned. With all four of these players healthy, Tom Crabtree could very well be expendable, especially since he's a restricted free agent this season and didn't play particularly well (he graded out lowest of the four Packers' tight ends by Pro Football Focus with -7.1). Finley is still a capable receiver, as he showed down the stretch, and he should hopefully be motivated in a contract year. The problem is whether these players will develop, and because of the uncertainty surrounding each of them, I can't give the group as a whole a full B grade.
Need for Improvement: 5 (out of 10)
With Quarless returning, that is like a free agent acquisition in and of itself, even if he still has a lot to prove. Many draftniks have been projecting a tight end like Zach Ertz or Tyler Eifert as the Packers' first-round pick this season, but I highly doubt it; if Ted Thompson is going to make a run at a tight end, he's likely to do it in the middle to late rounds. After all, that's where he found all four of the players currently on the roster. Frankly, there are far more critical positions that need improvement with an early draft pick.