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Packers 2018 roster prediction: Jimmy Graham headlines group of 3 tight ends making cut

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The Packers side with experience in Acme Packing Company’s roster projection for the tight end position.

NFL: Green Bay Packers-OTA Milwaukee Journal Sentinel-USA TODAY NETWORK

Welcome to the prediction section of the offseason. Over two weeks, Acme Packing Company will present our overall roster predictions for the Green Bay Packers’ season-opening 53-man roster. Today, we continue with the Packers’ tight ends.

For an offense that has experienced little turnover in recent years, the Packers suddenly have a decidedly different look within the receiving corps. That especially applies to the tight ends, where two of the three top players from a year ago no longer reside on the roster.

Of course, that has created opportunities for the multiple newcomers to rise up the depth chart, including Green Bay’s top free-agent acquisition of the offseason.

Starter: Jimmy Graham

The Packers didn’t bring in Jimmy Graham solely as a Martellus Bennett replacement. They hope that the 6-foot-7 tight end can open up the middle of the field like none of their tight ends since Jermichael Finley truly have on a consistent basis. Graham’s athleticism, though diminished from his peak as a member of the New Orleans Saints, remains a difficult matchup for linebackers and slot corners attempting to cover him. That, along with his contributions in the red zone, could bring the Packers back to their pre-2017 levels of offensive production.

Reserves: Marcedes Lewis, Lance Kendricks

While Marcedes Lewis has yet to play a down for the Packers, his role already looks fairly well defined. He will serve as the team’s primary blocking tight end, a factor that could jumpstart the ground game as well as provide additional protection if right tackle becomes a problem during Bryan Bulaga’s absence. And though not a red-zone monster like Graham, Lewis can still provide something as a pass catcher near the goal line.

Meanwhile, Lance Kendricks gets a second chance to connect with Aaron Rodgers now that the franchise quarterback has fully healed from last year’s broken collarbone. Kendricks provides a little bit of everything but doesn’t excel in any one area, so what playing time he receives in 2018 remains unclear. Still, as far as third tight ends go, the Packers should feel pretty strongly about what they have.

Released: Emanuel Byrd, Kevin Rader, Ryan Smith

With so much experience atop the depth chart, the Packers will have a hard time finding a spot on the 53-man roster for one of their three young tight ends. Byrd, who appeared briefly during the 2017 season, has received strong reviews during the offseason workouts and appears best positioned to find a spot on the team’s practice squad (or perhaps latch on with another team following final cuts).

Kevin Radar and Ryan Smith have less to go on. However, given Green Bay’s approach to the position, both should at least get a cursory look for the practice squad as well.