Super Bowl LVII is in the books and former Packer Marquez Valdes-Scantling gets a Super Bowl Ring before Davante Adams. Nobody said life is fair. Valdes-Scantling, discarded after four years with the Packers, may have been a no stat contributor in Sunday’s big game but the Kansas City offense didn’t need him in the second half of what was a juggernaut performance against a solid Eagle defense. Now, the Packers put up 33 points against the same Philly defense just over two months ago, but Patrick Mahomes did not throw two interceptions like Aaron Rodgers did in late November and the Kansas City defense put six on the board by taking Jalen Hurts’ fumble to the house. And while I’m complaining why does the NFL keep using Roman Numerals to promote this championship.
For a league that communicates it wants to get away from a Gladiator violent persona could you try using numbers that weren’t used by enslavers of half the world? Listen, we could come up with all sorts of useless complaints, troll endlessly about the commercials we liked or disliked. But instead of coulda, shoulda woulda, and a side of whining, can the 2023 Packers take anything constructive away from the final game of the 2022-2023 season?
The 2023 NFL draft is just around the corner and the Packers will have their best draft position in years. Watching this playoff matchup the tight end play on both teams jumped off the screen. Travis Kelce and Dallas Goedert combined to make 12 catches for 141 yards and one touchdown. The two teams that KC and Philly played for a shot at the Lombardi Trophy, the 49ers and Bengals, have George Kittle, the best tight end in the game when healthy, and former first round pick Hayden Hurst for the Bengals, respectively.
The lesson to learn is that elite NFL offenses have tight ends that can change the game and force other teams to develop a focused defensive game plan to try to stop them. The Packers in 2022 relied on Robert Tonyan, Mercedes Lewis and Josiah Deguara. Tonyan ended the season with two touchdown catches. The entire Packer 4 man tight end depth chart, including Tyler Davis, totaled 4 touchdowns and 76 catches. Kelce had 110 catches this past season. Even if the Packers resign Tonyan and Lewis, they must upgrade this position.
Debating when to draft a tight end is a wasted energy debate. Kelce was a third round pick, Kittle a fifth rounder. Hurst and Goedert were first and second rounders respectively. The Packers have tried and failed to find a game changing tight end in the third round in their last two attempts. Jace Sternberger and Josiah Deguara have not lived up to their draft position. Deguara is not a complete bust like other Packer third rounders, Sternberger, Amari Rodgers, Oren Burks, Sean Rhyan, Khyri Thornton and the list continues. When you put these failed picks on a list the depth of the problem is clearly worse than any easy excuse could dismiss. The likely issue screams that the repeated failures are systemic.
The list is so long it makes fans wish Gutekunst would step aside and let someone else in the room make the third round selection or better yet, change strategy. NFL draft pundits are saying this is a good draft to find a tight end. There is allegedly some quality and depth.
So the big question is if the Packers or another team take a tight end in the first round, will he be the next Gronk, or the next Dave LaFleur. LaFleur was an All American TE drafted in the first round in 1997. He was a do it all college tight end who was too slow to get open in the pro game. Kyle Pitts, the fourth pick in 2021, was the last draft pick compared to Gronk and he has not been enough to turn the franchise around in Atlanta. (28 receptions and 2 TD’s – surgery on MCL in week 11 of 2022) Top picks can star or flame out. But tight ends are hard to evaluate as both the Packer struggles and other players mentioned above demonstrate.
Twenty four tight ends have been drafted in the first round since Bubba Franks was the Packers first round pick in 2000. Teams that have drafted a tight end in the first round multiple times since 2000 include the Lions, Jets, Patriots, Ravens, Steelers, Browns and Giants. This list shows there are many strategies to a successful draft in the NFL but the success or failure is not strategy as much as it is tied to the health and talent of the players drafted.
Michael Mayer carried Notre Dame in 2022. Every defense knew the ball was coming to him on third down and Mayer made tough catch after touch catch. In 12 regular season games (he did not play in the Gator Bowl) Mayer collected 67 passes 809 yards and 9 touchdowns. Even with shaky quarterbacking he rarely dropped a pass and he was a good blocker in an offense that ran the ball with commitment. Mayer had 26 contested catches in 2022. He is listed as 6’4” and 265 pounds. He often won by using his size against college athletes that will not star in the NFL. It will be interesting to see if he is really 6’4” as he does not look tall on a college field. He also does not look like he is blessed with game changing speed.
Next up in many pundits lists is Luke Musgrave of Oregon State. Musgrave ran a legit 4.51 forty and had a 36.5 vertical jump before knee injury ended his 2022 season after two games. Some pundits are actually mocking the Packers picking Musgrave as their first round pick, number 15. How do the Packers take a tight end with a significant knee injury at 15? Teddy is rolling over at the suggestion. For his toughness, he was a lacrosse, track and field and ski racer in high school. Musgrave’ s blocking includes multiple missed assignments that will probably drop him to the second or even third round.
Next on the pundit list is Tucker Kraft of South Dakota State. 6’5” 255 pound athlete with 90 catches for 1091 yards and 9 touchdowns over his college career. He wants to follow Dallas Goedert from South Dakota State to elite pro. Kraft missed multiple games with an ankle injury and had his catches drop from 67 in 2021 to 27 in 2022. While he has put up great numbers against lower division talent, he had only one catch against Iowa for 7 yards but his blocking in that game was outstanding. Kraft’s number one concern listed by the Draft Network are his hands, he has had his share of drops.
An intriguing prospect to take over the main blocking duties if Lewis retires is Georgia’s Darnell Washington. Listed at 6’7” and 280 pounds he is taller than any starter in Green Bay’s lineup and blocks with the power of a lineman. His tape shows some catching ability, but he lacks the speed to separate in the NFL. His running is described as “lumbering” by the Pro Football Network.com. His highlights show extremely soft hands and the ability to make one handed grabs, off target catches, contested catches, even hurdle defensive backs.
Washington is an amazing athlete for his size. His nickname, the big O, for his jersey number 0, takes me back to my favorite Milwaukee Bucks memories. One thing you can take to the bank, if Washington becomes a Packer, nobody in practice or a game will want to tackle him. The more I watch the more I want him in a Packer uniform. His blocking has potential as an inline blocker and jets sweeps and if used as the blocking outside flanker on wide receiver screens they could be unstoppable. His big drawback is little to no burst off the line of scrimmage.
The debated fourth tight end of the draft is Sam Laporte of Iowa. He lists at 6’4” 250 lbs catching 58 passes in 2022. LaPorte plays like a receiver, playing outside, and all over the field. While he is a willing blocker and showed toughness through injury, his blocking is not is strong point and could use improvement. He also had 6 drops in 2022. He is better after the catch than he is at route running. His ability to separate, which is really the key to top tight ends like Kelce and Kittle, is questionable.
Not to be forgotten, Cameron Latu of Alabama set an Alabama record for touchdowns in 2021 but his numbers dropped in 2022. At 6’5 and 244 lbs, he has legit size and will block, but his hands are sometimes suspect although he displays better separation skills than some prospects on this list.
Dalton Kincaid is the tight end that is not being discussed but his film is impressive. Kincaid is 6”4” and 242 lbs and had 18 contested catches to go with 70 total catches. He tallied 8 touchdowns. His 91.8 receiving grade, higher than Mayer, is due to only one drop. If you only watched his pass catching highlight reals you would say he is a legit first rounder. If you watch his blocking tape, the bottom falls out. He struggles blocking anybody. He is also 24 years old, so his window to learn how to block is sunsetting as we speak. Now, his poor technique blocking, especially when he dips his head, can be coached, but you can’t rely on him blocking to protect your quarterback at this stage.
Other tight ends listed by Pro Football Network.com include:
Luke Schoonmaker; Michigan (6’6”/250 lbs)
Payne Durham; Purdue (6’5”/255 lbs.)
Josh Whyle; Cincinnati (6’6”/250 lbs.)
Brevyn Spann-Ford; Minnesota (6’7”/270 lbs.)
Will Mallory; Miami (6’5”/245 lbs.)
Code Stover; Ohio State (6’4”/255 lbs.)
Benjamin Yurosek; Stanford (6’4”/245 lbs.)
Zack Kuntz; Old Dominion (6’8”/251 lbs.)
Luke Ford; Illinois (6’6”/265 lbs.)
Noah Grindorff; North Dakota State (6’6”/275 lbs.)
Brenton Strange; Penn State (6’3”/246 lbs.)