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Packers 2019 training camp roster: Jace Sternberger biggest addition at tight end

Though the Packers plan to emphasis tight ends in their new offense, most of the same faces from last season return in 2019.

LSU v Texas A&M Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Since the conclusion of the 2018 season, the Green Bay Packers’ roster has changed significantly. A large group of free agents, draft picks, and undrafted rookies will come to training camp to challenge for roster spots and roles on the team’s 53-man roster. Over the next two weeks, Acme Packing Company will break down the roster position by position and reveal our compiled predictions for the 53-man roster.

Though the Packers have invested large sums of money into tight end in recent years, the offense didn’t seem to feature them as a consistent part of the passing game. That appears likely to change under Matt LaFleur, the team’s new head coach and a disciple of the Kyle Shanahan/Sean McVay offense that has begun to proliferate around the NFL. LaFleur will use tight ends as a major part of the passing game, particularly as part of the play-action game that forms the crux of the scheme.

But while the offensive philosophy has changed in Green Bay, much of the personnel at tight end hasn’t. Three of the four tight ends to catch a pass for the Packers last season return to the team in 2019. While the front office did make a notable addition in the draft, the returning players will likely see most of the work this year.

Jimmy Graham

Experience: Nine seasons
2018 stats: 55 catches, 636 receiving yards, two touchdowns
How acquired: Signed as unrestricted free agent in 2018

After misfiring badly on free agent Martellus Bennett during the 2017 offseason, the Packers tried again with Jimmy Graham. Graham’s status as a premier red-zone threat and top-shelf receiver convinced the front office to offer a three-year, $30 million contract that remains the largest in terms of average annual value for the position. Green Bay expected Graham to finally stabilize a position that had remained unsettled since Jermichael Finley’s early retirement.

While Graham did produce during his first season in Green Bay, he didn’t quite live up to expectations. His production topped that of any Packers tight end from the previous two seasons, he failed to open up the passing game as the team had hoped. The speed that made him one of the most dominant tight ends of the modern era had evaporated, and a mid-season thumb injury only lessened Graham’s impact.

Many expected the Packers to part with Graham this offseason and save a hefty sum in salary and roster bonuses. Instead, the team decided to bring the veteran back for a look in LaFleur’s offseason. Graham doesn’t seem like an ideal fit given his disinterest in blocking -- a skill critical to selling the play-action fakes central to the scheme -- but he could still have a nice bounce-back season.

Marcedes Lewis

Experience: 13 seasons
2018 stats: Three receptions, 39 yards
How acquired: Signed as unrestricted free agent in 2018

The Packers added Marcedes Lewis late in the 2018 offseason with the intention of featuring him as a blocking tight end and red-zone weapon. Lewis did see some action as a blocker, though not nearly as much work overall as expected. Instead, the offense gave more opportunities to Lance Kendricks, a pedestrian jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none tight end with no future in Green Bay. Lewis’ lack of usage seemed to indicate that the Packers would move on this offseason.

Instead, Lewis returned on a one-year deal to give LaFleur’s offense some semblance of a traditional in-line tight end. Lewis’ workload remains unclear, but the Packers have no other experienced player on the roster who fits that role.

Robert Tonyan Jr.

Experience: Two seasons
2018 stats: Four receptions, 77 yards, one touchdown
How acquired: Signed as a “street” free agent in 2017

Robert Tonyan became a fan favorite after an impressive 2018 training camp and preseason. That didn’t materialize into much during the regular season, though Tonyan displayed flashes of brilliance such as his 54-yard touchdown grab against the Seattle Seahawks.

Tonyan has spent this offseason working out with San Francisco 49ers star George Kittle and preparing to compete for consistent work in the Packers’ new offense. If his blocking improves, so should his fortunes in Green Bay.

Jace Sternberger

Experience: Rookie
2018 stats (at Texas A&M): 48 receptions, 832 yards, 10 touchdowns
How acquired: Selected in third round of 2019 NFL Draft (75th overall)

With a new offense built on play-action, the Packers knew they needed to acquire some new talent at tight end this offseason. They did so by selecting Jace Sternberger with their third-round pick this past April. Sternberger effectively started for just one season in college, but he made the most of his limited time, posting 48 catches for 832 yards and 10 touchdowns with Texas A&M. Green Bay hopes Sternberger can build on that success once he acclimates to the NFL, a notoriously difficult process for tight ends.

In college, Sternberger saw most of his action lined up as a wing or split out from the offensive line. Accordingly, he projects as a move tight end rather than a traditional Y, though Sternberger could still develop into a major contributor in the offense.

Evan Baylis

Experience: Two seasons
2018 stats: N/A
How acquired: Signed as a “street” free agent in 2018

The Packers didn’t see much of Evan Baylis last season as the tight end didn’t join the team until mid-December. However, Baylis received a longer look this offseason during minicamp and organized team activities. He faces an uphill battle for a roster spot given the Green Bay’s recent investments.

Pharoah McKever

Experience: One season
2018 stats: N/A
How acquired: Claimed off waivers in 2019

The Packers took a flier on Pharoah McKever after the Jacksonville Jaguars severed ties in June. McKever doesn’t have much experience at tight end, having played at wide receiver and along the defensive line for much of his college career. Still, his size makes him an intriguing long shot entering training camp.