While two other NFC North teams landed top tight ends in the first two rounds of the 2019 NFL Draft, the Green Bay Packers were content to sit back and wait for round three to find a player at that position. The Detroit Lions have T.J. Hockenson now (8th overall pick) and the Minnesota Vikings drafted Irv Smith at 50, but Jace Sternberger — the 75th selection — will be the player of the future in Green Bay.
There will probably be comparisons of those three players for years to come, and to some extent that will be justified. After all, the Packers had a chance to snag Smith at 44 but selected offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins instead. But one thing that Sternberger has over those other two players already is a better production level in their final collegiate season.
Of the three, Sternberger led in receiving yards (832) and touchdowns (10), as well as yards per reception (17.3). Only Smith’s 49 receptions exceeded a mark that Sternberger posted (he had 48).
Still, trying to measure the three by rookie year impact will be a poor way to break them down. Hockenson will likely enter the year as the Lions’ starter ahead of free agent acquisition Jesse James. Smith will probably be the #2 in Minnesota behind Kyle Rudolph, but the Vikings’ veteran could still be a candidate to be cut as a cap casualty. Meanwhile, Sternberger will almost certainly play the #3 role behind Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis, biding his time before he is likely to take over in 2020.
Any one of these players could have the more productive career; it’s on the teams’ coaching staffs now to bring the most out of them. And of course, Packers fans hope that Sternberger will be the most successful of this bunch.
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While this is true, you can say the same about any rookie tight end. There’s nothing inherent to Sternberger as a player or a person that suggests that his development should take longer than any other player at his position in this draft class, and in fact he should be able to contribute as a receiver immediately in some capacity.
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