Packers Hope Rodgers is Gem in Weak TE Class

In one of worst tight end drafts in recent history, the Packers are encouraged about Richard Rodgers. We look back at this year's class, the selections available and the early results produced by the third-round pick from Cal.

In a draft that featured a bumper crop of prospects at most positions, the tight end position was practically a barren wasteland.

That was bad news for the Green Bay Packers, who entered the draft needing to add an impact tight end with Jermichael Finley's uncertain future with the team.

In the first round, Eric Ebron went No. 10 to Detroit.

In the second round, Austin Seferian-Jenkins went No. 38 to Tampa Bay. Jace Amaro, a glorified receiver, went No. 49 to the Jets. Troy Niklas, a former defensive player with limited value in the passing game, went No. 52 to the Cardinals. That was one spot before the Packers took receiver Davante Adams at No. 53.

With the first pick of the third round, Houston grabbed Iowa's C.J. Fiedorowicz.

And that was it until the Packers took Richard Rodgers with their third-round compensatory pick, No. 98 overall.

With the next selection, Baltimore took another tight end, Crockett Gillmore, at No. 99.

That would be the last tight end off the board for a whopping 56 selections. Arthur Lynch went to Miami at No. 155. It would be an even longer wait for the next tight end, with Ted Bolser going to Washington at No. 217. Rob Branchflower was the 10th and final tight end selected, going to Pittsburgh at No. 230.

To put that in perspective, 16 tight ends were selected in 2013 (with six in the first three rounds), 11 in 2012 (three in first three rounds), 12 in 2011 (three in first three rounds), 20 in 2010 (five in first three rounds), 20 in 2009 (five in first three rounds) and 16 in 2008 (including Finley as the last of the seven tight ends selected in the first three rounds).

For Green Bay, the board never lined up with its selections in the first two rounds. So, in the third round, the Packers had their choice of the two top remaining tight ends.

Did they make the right call? Yes, based on what they're potentially losing in Finley.

"It all depended on what I needed," the NFL's head scout, Dave-Te' Thomas, said. "If I needed a blocker, I'm definitely going for Gillmore. If I needed a receiver, I've got to go for Rodgers because the kid's got a great pass-catching radius. My knock on him is he's not going to block worth a squat for me."

Thomas wasn't high on Rodgers; then again, he wasn't high on any of this year's tight ends beyond Seferian-Jenkins. In his role with the NFL, he projected Rodgers as a sixth-round selection.

So far, however, the Packers seem thrilled with Rodgers, an early entrant who played as an oversized slot receiver in Cal's spread offense last season. It's that background that could make him an asset in a tight end group that lacks much proven punch in the passing game.

"I think he really has" benefitted from playing as a receiver in college, coach Mike McCarthy said. "I think any time you take a tight end or any position and you get to play in more of a play-action, in-line offense and have the ability to move into the backfield, and then have the ability to play in space, it's definitely an education opportunity. And I think it really highlighted his skill-set."

Of course, it's far too early to render any verdicts on Rodgers. With his lack of speed and athleticism (4.87 in the 40, 31.5-inch vertical at the Scouting Combine), can Rodgers separate from the NFL's safeties and linebackers? Is he tough enough and willing enough to block?

These offseason practices shed little light on those questions. Rodgers, however, made one of the plays of the spring by making a one-handed catch of a deflected pass that fluttered behind him and over his head on Thursday.

"He's made a lot of plays," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "Matt (Flynn) and I were just talking about it, how 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, especially some of the plays he made today. Again, it's helmet and shorts, but 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."


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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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