Over the next two weeks, we will take a look at each position group on the Packers and provide grades and insight on how they performed in the 2014 season. Today, we'll be looking at the Tight End position. Follow along with all of our positional breakdowns here.
The Packer offense is the class of the league, a juggernaut led by perennial MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers. This fact is actually quite amazing when you consider that the tight ends they employ were among the worst groups in the NFL. The tight end group was responsible for everything from a less-than-ideal red zone offense to poor blocking to the occasional special teams nightmare.
While getting Randall Cobb back may be a priority for the passing game, getting just an average tight end would help the offense immensely, especially near the goal line where vertical space is more important than horizontal space, and big bodies dominate. One would expect that if a tight end doesn't do the job in the receiving game that he would instead excel at blocking, but the Packer tight ends brought almost nothing to the table.
16 games, 29 receptions, 46 targets (63% catch rate), 323 yards, 3 TDs, 11.1 Y/R, -0.3% DVOA (25th among TEs)
God's gift to mediocre tight end play, Quarless was at least semi-competent. Quarless turns 27 this year and at this point, he is what he is: an occasionally tough receiver with "meh" hands who will occasionally get you tough yards over the middle, or semi-occasionally into the end zone, while providing perfectly adequate blocking. He is in some ways the poorest man's Jermichael Finley. His longest reception of the year was 34 yards and he only caught three balls all year (on only five targets) described by the official NFL gamebook as "deep".
Quarless is a fine player to have as your backup tight end as he doesn't have any extreme weaknesses and he knows the playbook, but he will never be the deep threat that some thought. One of Seattle's few weaknesses is against the tight ends, and while there are a lot of very memorable tragedies that stand out from that game, Quarless' one target, zero catch effort should not escape scrutiny. He is a backup forced into a starter's role, and it showed.
16 games, 20 receptions, 30 targets (67%), 225 yards, 2 TDs, 11.3 Y/R, -11.3% DVOA (36th)
Rodgers was primarily an athletic pass-catcher at Cal, but you'd never know it from watching his Packer debut this year. He often looked slow and rarely created any kind of separation due to a lack of explosion and imprecise route-running. Still, while Quarless is a finished product, Rodgers is young, and there were some occasional flashes of what may be possible. His 32-yard touchdown catch against New England was a thing of beauty; furthermore, while Quarless saw just 5 deep balls on 46 total targets, Rodgers saw 5 deep balls in just 30 targets, hauling in 4 of them. Pro Football Focus hated his run-blocking with a passion (-9.5, 56th among TEs), but this isn't entirely fair as Rodgers has never been a bruiser, and a good chunk of his work came in run-heavy formations against the defense's heavy package. Much more encouraging was his +2.1 pass blocking grade, 5th at the position. While Rodgers' athleticism may not have always shown up in his routes, he was actually quite good when asked to stay in and block on passing downs.
The results weren't there for Rodgers this year, but he showed enough to provide some optimism. Hopefully an offseason does him a world of good.
13 games, 2 receptions, 4 targets (50%), 3 yards, 1 TD, 1.5 Y/R
What happened to Brandon Bostick? Forced into action due to injuries to others in weeks 10-13 of the 2013 season, Bostick showed surprising athleticism in catching 7 balls for 120 yards, a hefty 17.1 yards per reception. Unfortunately, starting in week 14 of last year, football life has been a nightmare for Bostick. He broke his foot in week 14 against Dallas, costing him the remainder of 2013 and, perhaps more importantly, most of the offseason. He would then break his fibula in the 2nd preseason game of 2014 against St. Louis. Whether last year was just a small sample size aberration or if injuries simply robbed him of his effectiveness, Bostick basically couldn't get on the field on offense and was limited to special teams where, for most of the year, he was adequate if not spectacular.
He will live in infamy due to the onside kick in the playoffs, but for Bostick this was a lost year before it even started. I suspect he will move on in the offseason.
An undrafted free agent out of Maine, Perillo was signed on to the active roster from the practice squad in mid-November and saw limited action in a few games. If there's anything there we'll have to wait until 2015 to find out.
The best that you can say about the Packer tight ends is that it could be worse. For instance, the most yards a Detroit Lions tight end gained in a game this year was 38, and that's with a rookie top-ten pick at the position (Eric Ebron). Rodgers may still turn into something special given time, but there is no doubt that the Packer offense, as good as it was, suffered for lack of a competent big target, especially near the goal line.
Most teams employ some combination of blocking tight ends and receiving tight ends, and with the exception of Rodgers' pass-blocking, no one did anything particularly well. The unfortunate loss of Nick Collins to a career-ending injury is often blamed for setting the Packer safety position back significantly; I can't help wondering if we end up looking at the Jermichael Finley injury the same way. I suspect this position will look a lot different in 2015.