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Packers training camp preview: New blood at tight end

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Jimmy Graham leads the new-look group of tight ends.

NFL: Green Bay Packers-OTA USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Continuing our series looking at the Green Bay Packers’ 90-man roster heading into training camp, we examine the tight end position and reveal our pre-camp predictions for the team’s 2018 53-man roster. Follow along over the next two weeks as we break down the roster position-by-position and reveal our predictions.

The Packers believed they had settled the tight end position last offseason when they invested a three-year, $21 million contract in free agent Martellus Bennett. Seven games and a filed grievance later, it became clear that the team had returned to square one at the position.

With a new general manager in charge, Green Bay once again invested at tight end in a significant way, signing a proven veteran to the most lucrative contract for the position across the NFL.

Jimmy Graham

NFL experience: Eight seasons
Contract: First season of three-year, $30 million ($11 million signing bonus) deal
2017 stats: 57 catches for 520 yards and 10 touchdowns

With the Bennett saga (mostly) behind them, the Packers targeted the top tight end on the market this offseason, landing former Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints Pro Bowler Jimmy Graham for a deal averaging $10 million annually. Graham has remained a highly efficient red-zone threat during his time in Seattle, catching most of his 10 touchdowns inside the 20-yard line last year. Still, for the Packers to get a proper return on investment, he will have to become a more consistent weapon between the 20s.

Lance Kendricks

NFL experience: Seven seasons
Contract: Final season of two-year, $4 million ($1.2 million signing bonus) deal
2017 stats: 18 catches for 203 yards and one touchdown

The “other” tight end the Packers added through free agency in 2017, Kendricks became an afterthought following Aaron Rodgers’ broken collarbone. Though not spectacular in any one area, Kendricks has the ability to block and serve in several roles within the offense. Despite that versatility, he might need to fight for his job this training camp and preseason.

Marcedes Lewis

NFL experience: 12 seasons
Contract: First season of one-year, $2.1 million ($500,000 signing bonus) deal
2017 stats: 24 catches for 318 yards and five touchdowns

Though the numbers suggest Marcedes Lewis could serve as a red-zone threat, his purpose in Green Bay lies in the trenches. The Packers brought the veteran tight end in as a blocker, someone who could help jumpstart the running back and contribute as an edge blocker should the need arise. Barring injury, Lewis should find a spot on the opening 53-man roster.

Emanuel Byrd

NFL experience: One season
Contract: Final season of two-year, $945,000 deal
2017 stats: Two catches for 31 yards

A former undrafted free agent, the Packers hope that Emanuel Byrd can develop into a pass-catching threat who can also serve as a meaningful contributor on special teams. Thus far, Byrd has earned strong reviews during offseason workouts and could battle for more than just a roster spot during the 2018 season.

Kevin Rader & Ryan Smith

NFL experience: None
Contract: First season of three-year, $1.71 million deal
2017 stats: (n/a)

Both of the Packers’ undrafted free agents at tight end face long odds to make the final roster. With so much tied up in the veterans atop the depth chart and Byrd sitting in the driver’s seat for any spot left over, Kevin Rader and Ryan Smith most likely need to make a case for the practice squad.