One of the biggest mystery positions for the Green Bay Packers heading into training camp is tight end. The main reason for this is that their starter for the past three years, Jermichael Finley, is no longer with the team following a severe neck injury suffered last season.
However, just because the tight ends in Green Bay are currently a mystery doesn't mean that there's a lack of talent. In fact, this has the potential be the most talented group the Packers have had in recent memory.
Today, we'll break down the tight end position and offer analysis on the depth chart and how the Packers could best utilize each player. Before we start, however, let's take a look at who exactly the Packers currently have on their roster:
|Green Bay Packers' Depth Chart at Tight End|
|Brandon Bostick||Newbury College||25||2|
|Andrew Quarless||Penn State||25||5|
|Jake Stoneburner||Ohio State||24||2|
|Ryan Taylor||North Carolina||26||4|
The Potential Starters
There are four names on the above list that have a legitimate shot at being starters in Green Bay. They are Andrew Quarless, Brandon Bostick, Colt Lyerla and Richard Rodgers.
Quarless was locked in atop the depth chart heading into the offseason. However, an undisclosed injury has kept Quarless from practicing at all during OTAs and mandatory minicamp, according to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.
Quarless is still very much in the running for the No. 1 tight end job, but being injured has certainly opened the door for serious competition. The one player who has pushed the hardest for Quarless' job so far this offseason is Rodgers, the Packers' third-round pick.
Many expected Rodgers to take a year or two to develop before making an impact in the NFL. He was supposed to be the tight end of the future in Green Bay. However, Rodgers has been nothing but impressive throughout practices and is looking more polished than anyone could have thought.
Head coach Mike McCarthy has also been impressed by Rodgers:
McCarthy went on to say this about Rodgers, according to Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "I just think he’s a natural in space. I’m excited to see him when we get into the in-line work into training camp, but as far as all of the movement, playing in space, picking up the scheme, I think Richard’s off to a very good start."
There's still quite a bit of offseason to go, but Rodgers is definitely on the right track to getting some serious playing time.
The two wild cards for the starting job are Bostick and Lyerla. Unfortunately, both have struggled so far in the offseason.
Lyerla started as a fan favorite but has made some crucial errors, such as dropped passes, during practices:
The good news for Lyerla and his future is that he easily has the most potential of any tight end currently on the roster. Once he shakes of the rust from being away from the game for so long, it wouldn't be surprising at all to see him jump up the depth chart.
As for Bostick, he finally returned to practice in the final group of OTAs with a fully healed foot. He had brief flashes last year where his athleticism and big-play ability really jumped off the tape.
There is still a ton of work for the Packers to do in deciding who will start and who will come off the bench. However, the good news is that Green Bay has four legitimate options at tight end that could ultimately make a huge impact on the offensive side of the ball.
The Likely Backups
The current Packers who don't really have a shot at starting at tight end, but could still make the roster as backups are Ryan Taylor and Jake Stoneburner.
Both Taylor and Stoneburner are your more traditional tight ends who can line up on the line of scrimmage and excel at blocking. They aren't great athletes and won't make huge impacts in the passing game, but they're solid all-around players.
Where Taylor and Stoneburner could really make an impact for the Packers is on special teams. Taylor also has some experience lining up in the backfield in more of a traditional fullback role. If the Packers decide to use him like this again, they might even consider getting rid of John Kuhn.
Stoneburner and Taylor are two of the more experienced tight ends in Green Bay this year. However, with the Packers drafting Rodgers in the third round and adding a high-profile undrafted free agent in Lyerla, it's possible that neither Taylor nor Stoneburner make the final roster.
We've seen the Packers keep six tight ends on the final 53-man roster in recent years, but there are simply too many holes at other positions for that to happen this season. The likely scenario is that one or the other will make the team while the other is released.
The Camp Body
The remaining player is Justin Perillo, who, due to depth, looks like nothing more than a camp body at this point. What'll be difficult for the Packers when deciding what to do with the undrafted free agent from Maine is that he's also been extremely impressive throughout OTAs.
In fact, he made quite a few catches, showing off his sure hands:
His lack of athleticism is a concern, and it's what will ultimately keep him from making the final 53-man roster. However, we could see the Packers decide to sign Perillo to the practice squad so they can continue to develop his current talents.
If Perillo's hands and blocking skills grow, then the Packers could certainly find a way to utilize him in the future.
How the Packers Would Use Each Potential Starter
We've already briefly talked about how the Packers could utilize the backups Taylor and Stoneburner, so let's turn out attention to the four potential starting tight ends.
What the Packers desire for their tight end is to be able to line up all over the field. They're looking to create mismatches with the secondary. One place where Green Bay loves to put its tight end is in the slot.
For example, last year Finley played 31.4 percent of his snaps at the slot position, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). When he was injured, Quarless took over right where Finley left off by playing 28 percent of his snaps from the slow per PFF.
Another way the Packers create mismatches is by lining up their tight end out wide as a receiver when in the red zone. This allowed a player like Finley to simply go up and get the ball against a smaller cornerback.
The potential starters for the 2014 season all have the ability the line up in multiple positions. Of the four, Lyerla is probably the most comfortable in the slot. He could also be used as an H-back and play out of the backfield as a receiver.
Rodgers has the most potential playing as a wide receiver because that's how he was used quite a bit during his days at California. He's comfortable lining up out wide and battling smaller cornerbacks.
With that said, both Bostick and Quarless can also do both things, but their ceilings out wide or as a slot receiver aren't quite as high.
Whoever ends up as the starting tight end for the Packers can expect to be moved around quite a bit. They'll be asked to block at times, but what Green Bay is really interested in is a tight end who can add to its receiving game.
So, while the final order of the depth chart for the tight ends is still a mystery, the Packers need to be feeling good about the state of this position. They have plenty of options for whatever they could possibly want their tight ends to do.
Now it's just a matter of players winning battles, making plays and securing a spot on the final 53-man roster.