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Packers 2017 Roster Grades: The tight end position was a complete failure

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Especially relative to the investment at the position, the Packers’ tight ends were a massive disappointment throughout 2017.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Green Bay Packers Wisconsin-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next two weeks, Acme Packing Company takes a look at each position group on the Green Bay Packers and provides grades and insight on how they performed in the 2017 season. Today, we examine the tight end position.

The Green Bay Packers started the 2017 season with renewed optimism for the tight end position, hoping that a couple new additions and a new role for the one returning veteran would help lead the offense to new heights. What the team got was anything but.

Intended Starter: Martellus Bennett

2017 stats: 7 games, 7 starts; 38 targets, 24 receptions, 233 yards (9.7 yards per reception), 0 TDs

After a quiet preseason (but one that featured a touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers), Bennett started out his first regular season in Green Bay quietly and with only moderate productivity in the passing game. His first two games saw him catch just eight of 17 targets for 90 yards, and he rarely showed the big-play ability that made him such an appealing free agent signing. Bennett also had significant issues with drops, and arguably his biggest one came on the pass that saw Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone get broken.

In one game with Green Bay after Rodgers’ injury, Bennett caught three passes (on three targets) for 38 yards. But over the bye week, something bizarre happened that poisoned Bennett’s relationship with the organization.

Details are still sketchy at best, but disputes over a nagging injury led to the Packers releasing Bennett outright with an “failure to disclose an injury” designation, presumably setting up an argument to try to recoup the two-thirds of his signing bonus that was to be amortized against the 2018 and 2019 salary caps. Bennett then went on a lengthy rant on Instagram, accusing the Packers’ medical staff of handling his situation improperly.

His Packers career ended as suddenly and as surprisingly as it began.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Patriots — Bennett’s old team — claimed him on waivers, and he played two games with them (after saying around the time of his release that he thought his shoulder injury should have been season-ending) before being placed on injured reserve eventually anyway.

This was by far the most dramatic saga in Green Bay involving a single player since Brett Favre’s departure in the summer of 2008, and to this day there are clearly still hard feelings on Bennett’s side.

Backups

Lance Kendricks

2017 Stats: 16 games, 9 starts; 35 targets, 18 receptions, 203 yards (11.3 yards per reception), 1 TD

Initially intended to be a decent number two option, Kendricks was thrust into the starting role with Brett Hundley instead of Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback. The Milwaukee native and former Wisconsin Badger actually had his best game in week three, catching two passes for 52 yards and his only touchdown.

Starting with the Packers’ week nine game after Bennett’s departure, Kendricks caught 12 passes for 109 yards total, basically becoming an afterthought in a passing game that was virtually nonexistent.

Richard Rodgers

2017 Stats: 15 games, 1 start; 19 targets, 12 receptions, 160 yards (13.3 yards per reception), 1 TD

Rodgers became much more of a blocker in 2017 than he had been in years past, as he was targeted just five times before Bennett’s departure. His only notable game came in Aaron Rodgers’ return from injury against the Carolina Panthers; in that game, Richard Rodgers caught all four of his targets for 77 yards and a touchdown. In fact, he gained 60 yards on two receptions — including the touchdown — on a single drive that pulled the Packers back within a score near the end of the game.

Still, Rodgers hasn’t shown much as a blocker and likely will have a quiet market for his services.

Emanuel Byrd

2017 Stats: 1 game played; 2 targets, 2 receptions, 31 yards (15.5 yards per reception), 0 TDs

The only other player to suit up at tight end for the Packers is Byrd, whose only game action came in week 17 when Richard Rodgers sat with an injury. In a game featuring many of the Packers’ young reserves, Byrd caught both his targets for 31 yards. He also had a few nice plays in the preseason, and could be a candidate to compete for a third tight end job and some special teams snaps next season.

Overall Grade: F

This position gets the true failing grade. The expectations were as high as could be coming into the season and the players failed to live up to those expectations in every way imaginable. Admittedly, the passing game struggled without the Packers’ MVP quarterback, but look at the production relative to the investment:

The Packers paid their tight ends a combined total of $11.4 million and change to their tight ends in 2017; they received a total of 56 receptions for 627 yards (11.4 yards per catch) and one touchdown from the group. Cook, by comparison, cost the Raiders just $5.3 million in cash and essentially put up better numbers all on his own (54 catches, 688 yards, 2 scores). Add in bad drops and poor blocking and it’s easy to see why this position gets an F from our staff.