For Green Bay Packers to Take Next Step, Young Tight Ends Must Improve

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For Green Bay Packers to Take Next Step, Young Tight Ends Must Improve
Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

The Green Bay Packers are very close to Super Bowl contention. But in order for them to truly become a favorite, they need either the gifted-but-raw Brandon Bostick or rookie Richard Rodgers to become a game-changer at tight end.

The reasoning is simple: Three of the four best NFL quarterbacks have something in common—a young, supremely gifted tight end who is stretching the rigid definition of the position to its utmost limits.

Peyton Manning is paired with Julius Thomas. Tom Brady can toss it up to Rob Gronkowski. Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham give defenses nightmares.

Left out of that group is Aaron Rodgers. He has Andrew Quarless.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are two dynamic receivers, but they need help.

In years past, the Green Bay Packers have overwhelmed the league with their array of wide receivers. Things are different now. With Greg Jennings in Minnesota and Donald Driver retired, it’s Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and several question marks in the Packers’ suddenly thin receiving corps.

That’s usually when the tight end comes in and saves the day. But not in Green Bay.

The lack of a Pro Bowl tight end for Green Bay puts it just below true title contenders like Seattle, Denver and New Orleans.

Rodgers is incredible. Eddie Lacy is already a feared running back. But if the Packers run into a team with a Richard Sherman or Darrelle Revis, that severely limits their options in the passing game, and they can’t lean on their defense like the beasts in the NFC West can. There’s no safety valve. There’s no mismatch creator.

The tight end position in Green Bay is a major question mark, with the average Quarless manning the position last year. Luckily, the answer to this problem is already on the roster in the form of Bostick and Richard Rodgers.

 

Brandon Bostick

Mike Roemer/Associated Press/Associated Press
Tackling the athletic Brandon Bostick isn't an easy feat.

Let’s start with Bostick, for seniority’s sake. A converted wide receiver out of Newberry College, Bostick tallied 120 yards in 2013 with Green Bay. He’s still extremely raw, yet he easily offers more immediate upside than anyone else at the position.

Bostick is a Thomas type of athlete. He’s a former basketball player (of course). He is smooth at running routes and his 250 pounds of bulk make him a pain to tackle. His skills are evident in this touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles, as he plucked the ball out of the air and bowled over a defender to roll into the end zone. There’s a lot to like here.

No, Bostick shouldn’t be forgotten. In fact, he could be the beneficiary of the extra attention Nelson and Cobb will get, allowing him to break out much like Thomas did last year.

Bostick certainly has the talent to do so—Paul Imig of Fox Sports Wisconsin noted that Bostick plays a lot like Jermichael Finley and is improving rapidly as a route-runner. He is still learning the ropes as a blocker, but if Green Bay continues to use him like it did Finley, then that shouldn’t be a major concern.

What is a concern is Bostick’s sluggish start to the offseason. He’s behind in his development process due to foot surgery, which forced him to miss OTAs. The surgery certainly didn’t help Bostick stay in shape, and he said he showed up to training camp overweight, according to Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

That allowed a promising rookie to take his first team reps.

 

Richard Rodgers

Mike McGinnis/Getty Images
Richard Rodgers has dazzled during his first NFL offseason.

Green Bay put a heap of faith into Richard Rodgers when it selected him in the third round of the 2014 NFL draft (No. 98 overall). Although talented, Rodgers rarely did more than flash potential while at California, as noted by Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller in the video below:

Rodgers must be using that video as motivational fuel. With how impressive the rookie has been this offseason, the team's supposed reach is looking justified.

In June, ESPN’s Rob Demovsky wrote that Rodgers stood out during minicamp, making eye-catching play after eye-catching play. The impressive performance has made Rodgers the favorite to start Week 1.

What’s even better for Rodgers’ future is that his new quarterback is already warming up to him. Aaron Rodgers raved about him to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Rob Reischel, saying:

When we made the pick, some of the so-called experts on the draft channel said he was a late sixth-round pick ... which is pretty laughable when you watch the talent he's got and the ability. You have to be excited about his body type and the hands. He's made some incredible catches, makes it look easy. I think he's going to push for some playing time if he can transfer what he's done in the spring now to the fall and have the potential to be an impact player.

It’s an excellent start to Richard Rodgers’ young career, but we’ll have to wait and see if his ability in shorts can transfer to pads in the regular season. With an infinitely better quarterback throwing to him, we could see more plays like this for Green Bay this season:

Footballs Future forum
Rodgers gets behind the defense and makes a one-handed grab look easy.

Rodgers’ edge on Bostick is the most important note to take out of all of this, since both players have the physical ability and shouldn’t have much trouble producing versus defenses geared toward receivers on the outside.

 

Take Your Pick

Bostick or Rodgers can’t just be a cog in the system, however. Green Bay’s defense hasn’t been its fearsome self in recent years (it ranked 25th in yards allowed last season), so if the Packers want to make it through the brutal NFC, they’ll need to kick their offense into another gear entirely. That’s where the coming of age for a talented, yet inexperienced, tight end comes in.

Which player should the Packers start at tight end in 2014?

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Otherwise, the rest of the Packers’ options at tight end are uninspiring. Finley, a free agent, has expressed plenty of desire to return to the team, per Jason Wilde of ESPN Radio, but his health is of the utmost concern right now, following serious concussion issues last year. No one knows how much football he has left.

Quarless is a solid role player, but he has maximized his potential and doesn’t offer anywhere near the upside that Bostick and Rodgers do. Starting him won’t get the Packers anywhere.

Rookie Colt Lyerla at his best blows all of Green Bay’s other options out of the water. But he went undrafted after a slew of off-the-field troubles derailed his career at Oregon. The first priority for him is just to stick on a roster.

So the battle for Green Bay’s next starting tight end comes down to Bostick and Rodgers.

Bostick’s slow offseason has severely damaged his chances. Luckily, his experience and smooth receiving ability should make this a close race. Rodgers is riding on the offseason hype train and clearly has the faith of the Packers coaching staff. But if he starts to disappear like he did at California, then Green Bay will start to focus more on Bostick.

One of these players needs to become a bona fide NFL tight end. Green Bay lacks depth in its receiving corps and could be quieted by Seattle or San Francisco in January without a tight end to stretch the seam.

The team has Aaron Rodgers in his prime—that’s certainly a good start. Now the Packers need to give him a proper weapon at tight end, just like Manning, Brees and Brady have. But which player do they pick: Bostick or Rodgers? Who gives them the best chance at getting back to where they were less than four years ago?

Green Bay should hope it makes the right decision. After all, its Super Bowl aspirations hang in the balance.

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