When it comes to drafting a tight end, the ultimate decision might be made by team Dr. Pat McKenzie.
With Jermichael Finley, the Green Bay Packers have one of the NFL's premier tight ends.
When healthy in four full games last season, Finley 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.
But Finley missed three games with a knee injury in 2009, then was lost for the 2010 season after a season-ending knee injury on the first series of the Week 5 game at Washington. The goal of the surgery was to cure Finley's knee problem once and for all, and by all accounts, Finley will be ready to roll whenever training camp begins.
If McKenzie is certain that Finley's knee problems are ancient history, then the Packers would have little need to draft a tight end — especially a pass-catcher — especially in the prime rounds, with versatile Andrew Quarless and rugged Tom Crabtree returning behind Finley. But if there are ongoing concerns, or they simply want to be prepared with Finley's contract up at the end of the upcoming season, then tight end could be a prime target.
The Packers are doing their homework on at least one tight end with Finley-like skills. Green Bay held a formal interview with Nevada's Virgil Green at the NFL Scouting Combine, a source told Packer Report, and the Packers were at Green's pro day workout at Nevada on Tuesday.
Of the 17 tight ends at the Combine, only two ran faster than Green's 4.64 in the 40-yard dash, and no offensive player did better than his 42.5-inch vertical jump. The 6-foot-3 Green was listed at 240 pounds for his senior season but checked in at 249 at the Combine and 252 on Tuesday.
"I refuse to be covered by linebackers and I don't like being covered by DBs, either," Green said when asked about his speed, "so I think that's going to help me out with route running and breaking away from defenders."
With that sort of athleticism, Green — who arrived at Nevada as a wide receiver — could be a target for the Packers in the middle rounds if they're worried about Finley or simply want a dynamic one-two receiving punch at tight end to compensate for possibly issues at wide receiver, where Donald Driver is 36 and James Jones a free agent.
As a senior, Green caught 35 passes for 515 yards and five touchdowns while being used as an in-line blocker much more than most of the pass-catching tight ends in this draft. Like Finley, Green certainly is not a great blocker but, again like Finley, at least the attitude is there.
"In the pistol offense we run the ball 50, 60 times a game," Green said. "Going into it (while transitioning from receiver), I was like ‘Man, I don't know about this run blocking thing.' But after you get accustomed to how the practices worked, as hard-nosed, tough, grinding, you start to enjoy blocking and manhandling people. It's something I've grown to love."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.