With the 56th overall selection in the 2008 SB Nation NFL Mock Draft, the Green Bay Packers have selected Purdue tight end Dustin Keller.
In the poll, I listed Notre Dame TE John Carlson as the preferred tight end to draft, but Seattle took him with the pick before me, so I switched gears and took a different tight end.
At first, I thought the Packers would not be interested in Dustin Keller. They released former three-time Pro Bowl TE Bubba Franks back in February, and it would seem that they need a big blocking tight end to replace him. Keller is not a blocking tight end. He's going to have trouble taking on defensive ends and linebackers in the NFL, and he seems like a poor replacement for Franks. But that might make him a good fit with the Packers.
Franks went to three Pro Bowls when he played for former coach Mike Sherman, but was a complete failure under Mike McCarthy over the last two seasons. When he was still starting, back in 2006, he was arguably the worst receiving tight end in football. Then in 2007, TE Donald Lee took over as the starter and the tight end became the checkdown receiver McCarthy intended, which was part of the reason for the Packers offensive resurgence last season. The Packers don't seem to have a role for a big blocking tight end.
McCarthy says he expects his fullbacks and tight ends to be able to play each other's position. Although the tight end usually lineups initially on the line of scrimmage, he often goes into motion and is usually in the backfield blocking on passing downs. He is rarely, if ever, asked to take on a defensive end by himself. The tight end is almost like an H-back, but traditionally the H-back is used instead of a fullback in a two tight end set. Instead the Packers play like they have no tight end and an H-back plus one or two fullbacks. Since the H-back was created in order to get another player on the line of scrimmage, and the Packers seem to be trying to get the tight end off the line of scrimmage, I have no idea what you might want to call this new type of position. Although Keller might be too small to play tight end, as a hybrid tight end/fullback with the Packers, he would fit right in.
The Packers' tight end is rarely the first option in the pass offense, but he must be a good receiver to bail the QB out when the receivers are covered. Keller's receiving skills are excellent, and he ran the fastest 40 at the NFL combine among tight ends, which I'm sure got GM Ted Thompson's attention. There has been speculation that Keller might be the Packers 1st round selection, so grabbing him in the 2nd round would be an excellent value. John Dorsey, the Packers' director of college scouting, has been quoted that Keller is going to fit right into the "new-scheme NFL" which might mean he's the not-an-H-back type they are looking for.
Big disclaimer on this pick. In three drafts, GM Ted Thompson has never drafted a tight end higher than the 7th round. No team values fullbacks highly in the draft, so why should the Packers value a tight end highly when he's basically a fullback? None of the tight ends on the Packers' current roster were drafted by them either. Despite this disclaimer, Keller is still a great talent who adds depth to a thin position. Hopefully Thompson starts a new trend and drafts a tight end on the first day.