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Packers 2018 roster grades: Jimmy Graham and tight ends disappoint

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Another year of investment at tight end again left the Packers wanting more.

Arizona Cardinals v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Over the next two weeks, Acme Packing Company will take a look each position group on the Green Bay Packers and provide insight into how they performed during the 2018 season. Today, we examine the tight ends.

For the third year in a row, the Green Bay Packers tried to fill their longstanding void at tight end through free agency. For the third year in a row, they exist the season still looking for an answer.

This time around, the Packers spent lavishly on the presumptive top tight end on the market, the type of move the franchise had largely avoided under previous general manager Ted Thompson. His successor, Brian Gutekunst, saw the position as a major flaw with the offensive personnel. With Aaron Rodgers playing out the final stretch of his Hall of Fame career, Gutekunst and his front office reset the market for tight ends in hopes of jumpstarting the offense.

It didn’t work, and now Green Bay has to decide whether to run back the plan under new head coach Matt LaFleur or find someone else.

Starter: Jimmy Graham

16 games active, 12 starts
55 catches, 636 receiving yards, two touchdowns

On March 13, 2018, Jimmy Graham agreed to a three-year contract worth $30 million in total compensation with the Packers. The team hoped that deal would solidify a position that had become a revolving door in Green Bay and give Rodgers the type of pass catcher he lacked since Jermichael Finley’s retirement several years earlier.

Graham produced several flashes of brilliance during his first season in Green Bay, but he never captured the Pro Bowl form that made him such a devastating red-zone force during his previous stops with the Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints. A broken thumb suffered in mid-November reduced Graham to a mere cog in the machine, limiting him to just 21 catches and 184 yards the rest of the year.

Backups

Lance Kendricks

16 games active, three starts
19 catches, 170 receiving yards, one touchdown

Back for a second season, Lance Kendricks saw plenty of snaps and did the bare minimum with them. Kendricks registered just nine first downs all year, the fewest of any Green Bay receiver with at least 25 targets. Just as damning, his blocking did little to negate his deficiencies as a pass catcher.

Kendricks’ contract expires this March. While tight ends hold considerable value in the Packers’ new offense, it seems unlikely the team would invest another year and more money in Kendricks given his limited productivity over the past two seasons.

Marcedes Lewis

16 games active, four starts
Three catches, 39 receiving yards

The Packers added Marcedes Lewis late in the offseason, signing the veteran tight end to a one-year deal at the end of May. Still, Lewis seemed perfectly suited for a blocking-heavy role in former head coach Mike McCarthy’s offense.

Instead, Lewis played less than 200 snaps all year. His blocking fell off from the levels he displayed with the Jacksonville Jaguars and he never became a contributor in the passing game. Though Lewis didn’t cost the Packers much in terms of money, he took up a roster space that could have gone to a more useful player.

Robert Tonyan

16 games active, one start
Four catches, 77 receiving yards, one touchdown

The numbers don’t make a compelling case for Tonyan, who caught just four passes all season. Still, the Packers have high hopes for what the converted wideout might do in LaFleur’s offense. The front office will bring in more bodies this offseason, but Tonyan has a chance to carve out a meaningful role in 2019.

Overall grade: D-

While the Packers have endured disappointments with their tight ends before, the amount of money invested at the position this past season makes the group arguably more disconcerting. Other than Tonyan, who becomes an exclusive-rights free agent this offseason and would cost little to tenure, every other free-agent tight end seems likely to depart Green Bay this offseason. That means the team will essentially start over at an important position within their new offense once more.