Offseason Roster Analysis: Tight Ends

Between Andrew Quarless, Richard Rodgers and rookie Kennard Backman, it will be a wide-open battle at tight end. How high is Rodgers' upside? Can Backman's production carry over to the NFL?

Quarless and Rodgers by Andrew Weber/USA TODAY

The Green Bay Packers will begin three weeks of organized team activities following Memorial Day weekend, with the first of those that’s open to the public set for Thursday, May 28. We get you ready with a positional look at the team, which continues with the tight ends.

Depth chart

Veterans: Andrew Quarless, Richard Rodgers, Justin Perillo.

Rookies and first-year players: Kennard Backman (sixth round), Mitchell Henry (undrafted).

Noteworthy: Last season, the Packers opened the season with four tight ends on the roster, with Ryan Taylor and Brandon Bostick joining Quarless and Rodgers. Taylor was released after the fifth game of the season and Bostick was released following his season-killing miscue in the NFC Championship Game. The Packers simply need more from this position. Last year, the tight ends combined for 51 receptions (Quarless, 29; Rodgers, 20; Bostick, 2) and six touchdowns (Quarless, 3; Rodgers, 2; Bostick, 1). Sixteen individual tight ends had at least that many receptions and 10 had at least that many touchdowns. With 20 receptions for 225 yards and the two scores, Rodgers ranked fourth in catches, third in yards and tied for first in touchdowns among the rookies. Of the five rookies who caught at least 10 passes, Rodgers’ one drop was the fewest. Then again, of the 42 tight ends who caught at least 20 passes, Rodgers ranked 40th in yards after the catch per catch, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

Offseason outlook

The star: Based on his play at the end of last season, the “star” would be Rodgers. He caught four passes in the NFC Championship Game and grabbed 12-of-14 passes for 101 yards over the final four games (playoffs included). Compare that to 6-of-8 passes for 48 yards for Quarless. On the other hand, Quarless was a much better blocker – almost a full yard per rushing attempt between the two, according to league data -- and ranked 12th in YAC per reception among the aforementioned 42 tight ends with at least 20 grabs.

The battle: Without a clear-cut No. 1 tight end, the battle will be between Rodgers and Quarless to be that guy. At the Tailgate Tour, Quarless spoke as if he wanted to be considered among the elite tight ends in the game. It’s a lofty goal but, for a player headed into his sixth season in the league, he’s pretty much defined who he is as a player. Quarless catches OK, runs OK and blocks OK. That makes him an OK starter. Can Rodgers take that Year 1 to Year 2 jump that coach Mike McCarthy talks about so often? Or, with his limited athletic ability, is he close to his ceiling?

Rookie impact: All of that means the door is wide open for Backman to make an immediate impact. At 6-foot-3 ¼ with a 4.66 in the 40, he’s a bit undersized but a pretty good athlete. During his first three seasons at Alabama-Birmingham, Backman was used similarly to how the Packers have used Quarless – as a traditional tight end along with fullback and receiver. His collegiate position coach, former NFL tight end Richard Owens, liked Backman’s combination of athleticism, toughness and attitude. If it translate, his blocking ability will get him on the field. In a pass-happy scheme at Western Kentucky, Henry (6-3 5/8) finished sixth on the team with 32 receptions but tied for third with 15.3 yards per reception.

Quoteworthy: “I think Richard Rodgers definitely improved throughout the season,” McCarthy said. “I think when you give a young guy – a lot like Davante Adams – you give them opportunities and they improve. You find ways to keep getting them involved. I really like what Richard did this year. I think the second half of the season he was really comfortable to do all the things we ask the tight end position to do. From a responsibility standpoint, our tight ends are asked to do a lot as far as where they line up, mentality, on the ball, off the ball, in the backfield, displaced formations, and Richard is comfortable with that now.”

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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