Inside Champs: Tight Ends

We continue our positional look at the Packers' offseason roster with a breakdown of the tight ends. Jermichael Finley's healthy return is an absolute must, even for a team that won the Super Bowl without him.

Tight ends

Starter: Jermichael Finley (injured reserve). Backups: Andrew Quarless, Tom Crabtree, Spencer Havner.

Comment: Every July, we rank the Packers' roster from one to 80. If we were to undertake that series of stories today, Finley would be our second-most important player behind Aaron Rodgers. Yes, the Packers won the Super Bowl with Finley on injured reserve because of a season-ending knee injury, but Green Bay's offense could have a serious lack of firepower next season if James Jones departs in free agency and Donald Driver doesn't have a bounce-back season worthy of a player 10 years his junior.

Under the scenario that Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson are the starters, Driver is the third and some rookie is the No. 4, the Packers' passing game will need a healthy Finley returning to his playmaking prowess. If Finley can't recover and be a full-season force, defenses will smother Jennings, play it straight-up on Nelson and take their chances with Driver, Quarless and whoever else is forced into action. The Packers chose season-ending surgery with Finley's long-term best interests in mind, so chances are he'll be fine, but remember, he's played in only 17 of a possible 37 games over the last two seasons.

With Donald Lee's release, the Packers are counting on Quarless to take a significant step forward. Quarless, who admitted to hitting the rookie wall in December because of an unexpected workload, basically took over Finley's role in the lineup if not the game plan. Frequently in the Packers' favored three-receiver, one-back, one-tight end set, Quarless would flank out wide — a la Finley. Of course, he was more of a decoy in that role than Finley. He was targeted 33 times in 13 games compared to 26 in four-plus for Finley.

Crabtree is a no-nonsense blocker. An unsung hero all season, he was an unsung hero in the Super Bowl. If not for his diving 1-yard reception on the Packers' final possession, the Steelers would have had an additional 45 seconds (plus the two-minute warning) for their final drive.

Whether it was Crabtree or Quarless, their biggest role in the passing game was to motion into the backfield to pick up blitzers. Both generally did their job, though Quarless did give up a sack in the NFC title game against Chicago.

Havner, who was re-signed at midseason but played in just one game until being put on IR with an injured hamstring, was an exclusive-rights free agent. The Packers submitted a contract tender and Havner, for now, will compete for a roster spot this summer as a backup and key player on special teams.

What's interesting: When healthy in four full games last season, Finley was nothing short of dominant. He caught 21 of the 26 passes thrown his way — an astounding 80.8 percent, a rate that would have topped Antonio Gates' league-leading 76.9 percent at the position. Of those 21 catches, seven went for longer than 20 yards. He was on a full-season pace of 84 catches, 1,204 yards, 48 first downs and four touchdowns. Among tight ends, only Jason Witten had more catches (94) and first downs (49), nobody was close in yards (Witten finished with 1,002) and only three had a longer average catch than Finley's 14.3. And how about this: Even while missing most of the season, Finley ranked 19th in 20-yard gains among tight ends. Had he reached his pace of 28 catches of 20-plus-yards, he would have led the league by a whopping 12.

Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

Packer Report Top Stories