The tight end position has evolved over recent years to the point that pass-catching is largely valued more than run-blocking. The Packers offense can be nearly unstoppable when its receivers are paired with an athletic tight end that can stretch the field and keep the opposing linebackers honest in pass coverage. With the addition of a run-blocking specialist in Matthew Mulligan, the return of a healthy Andrew Quarless, and a new commitment to developing a run game, the Packers offense will be better-suited to showcase its bevy of talent at the position.
Locks to Start
No surprise here. Finley is by far the most talented tight end on the roster, and barring an injury or controversial tweet, he will be the starter for the Packers at the tight end position. Finley is in the final year of his contract, and after a disappointing start to the 2012 season, he will be looking to play his way into a contract extension. The Packers are hoping for a return to the 2009 version of #88, who caught 55 passes for 676 yards despite missing three games due to a knee injury. Finley has tended to be wildly inconsistent in his play, but if the Packers can keep defenses honest with even a resemblance of a running game, he has the ability to turn a routine play into a big play down the field. Finley has the skill set to be an All-Pro at his position, but will a new contract be enough motivation to bring out the best in the 6'5, 250-pound tight end?
We don't really think that these players will be able to surpass Finley for the starting position, but they should be valuable options when the Packers use double-tight end sets, or when Finley is used as a wide receiver in shotgun situations.
At 6-foot-4 and 267-pounds, the fifth-year player out of the University of Maine has the frame and strength to be a punishing run blocker who occasionally goes out in play-action situations. Mulligan spent the 2012 season with the St. Louis Rams, in which he appeared in all 16 games with nine starts and recorded career highs with eight catches for 84 yards. Mulligan also spent time with the Jets (2009-2011) after entering the league as an undrafted free agent with the Miami Dolphins in 2008. Mulligan won't be a play-maker at the tight end position, but will provide a much-needed run blocker after the departure of Tom Crabtree in free agency. His one-year deal (worth $820,000) makes it appear as though he is currently considered a short-term answer, but if he can provide solid run blocking opposite of Finley, he could be rewarded with a long-term extension.
The fourth-year player played in 23 games with five starts in his first two seasons with the Packers, but hasn't seen significant playing time since suffering a gruesome knee injury in Week 13 of the 2011 season. The former Penn State standout was drafted in the fifth round (154 overall) of the 2010 draft, and he holds school records for receptions by a tight end in a career (87) and single season (41 in 2009). He also finished his career ranked second in school history for receiving yards by a tight end with 1,146. Quarless has shown the potential to become the most balanced tight end on the roster in terms of combining pass catching abilities with run blocking technique, but it remains to be seen if he can recover to the player that he was two seasons ago. If he can retain his athleticism and get used to the game speed of the NFL, he could be a valuable piece of the Packers' offense this fall.
The third-year player out of Arkansas has performed primarily as a special teams contributor in his first two seasons with the Packers, while recording seven receptions for 57 yards in 2012. The Packers drafted Williams in the fifth round of the 2011 draft (141 overall), and signed him to a four-year contract worth $2.238 million. In 2010, Williams became the first Arkansas tight end to win the John Mackey Award, an honor given to the nation's top tight end. He finished with 152 receptions in his college career, which is second all-time in school history for a non-wide receiver. Williams hasn't been given much of an opportunity to show off his abilities as a tight end in his first two seasons, but with a wide-open competition for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart, Williams should have a chance to prove himself as more than just a special teamer. The 6-foot-2, 245 pound athlete has the potential to become an above-average tight end in the NFL, but he needs to work his way onto the field in order to reach that potential.
Out of the Running
Taylor has been a special teams ace in his first team seasons with the Packers, recording 15 tackles. The former North Carolina Tar Heel was drafted in the seventh round of the 2011 draft (218 overall), and has two receptions for 11 yards and one touchdown in his brief action at tight end. His first career touchdown came on his first offensive snap of the 2011 season against the Raiders, in which Taylor caught a four-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers. Taylor is a big body at 6-foot-3 and 254 pounds, but appears to be lagging in the running for a roster spot at tight end. His special teams contributions won't be enough to push him past the likes of Quarless and Williams, and with young talents like Bostick and Stoneburner eligible to bounce between the practice squad and the active roster, Taylor may be the odd man out.
Bostick was signed by Green Bay as a non-drafted free agent in May of 2012 (Three years, $1.485 million) and participated in the Packers' rookie orientation camp on a tryout basis. A four-year letterman at wide receiver at Newberry College (South Carolina), he played in 39 games with 24 starts and finished his career near the top of the school record books in every major receiving category. It's clear the Packers see potential in Bostick, but he will be pushed by Jake Stoneburner for practice squad duties. He has the size (6-foot-3, 250 pounds) to become a valuable run blocker, and his college career as a wide receiver bodes well for his ability to become a pass-catching threat as well. Bostick has one year of experience in the organization, which could help him pass Stoneburner, but he will have to show signs of improvement during the preseason in order for the Packers to view him as an asset they want to keep.
Stoneburner appeared in 48 games with 23 starts during his college career at Ohio State, and caught 53 passes for 714 yards and 13 touchdowns. As a senior in 2012, he posted 16 receptions for 269 yards (16.8 avg.) and four TDs while playing mainly wide receiver for a Buckeye team lacking in talent at wideout. In 2011, Stoneburner earned honorable mention All-Big Ten recognition at tight end after catching seven touchdown passes on the season, good for No. 4 nationally among tight ends. He signed a three-year deal ($1.475 million) this spring, and has the credentials to develop into a solid addition to the tight end group. He may be delegated to the practice squad this fall, but with a year of fine-tuning and training, he could fight for a 53-man roster spot in 2014.
The 2013 preseason will go a long way in determining which of these young unproven players will get a spot on the practice squad.
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