Just imagine how good the Green Bay Packers offense would be if they could get more productivity from their tight ends.
The Packers finished fourth in the NFL in scoring with 26.2 points per game, even though they got little from Donald Lee and his backups for most of the season.
Lee, whose production dipped from 48 catches to 39 and average per catch plunged from 12.0 yards to 7.9, finally gained some chemistry late in the season with quarterback Aaron Rodgers. And rookie third-round pick Jermichael Finley showed some of his immense promise in late-season games against Chicago and Detroit. Throw in Tory Humphrey, and the Packers' tight ends caught 54 passes.
Here is a look at the NFC North's tight ends.
Starter — Donald Lee. Backups — Jermichael Finley, Tory Humphrey. Injured reserve — Evan Moore.
With the exception of a couple games when the numbers were up, Lee had a pronounced dropoff in his production as a receiver from his final season with Favre to working with Rodgers. Lee finished with 39 catches for 303 yards and five touchdowns, in contrast to career highs of 48 receptions, 575 yards and six TDs in 2007. As such, his hold on the starting job going into next season is shaky. Finley ended the season on a positive note after he brought on some contentious moments as a rookie earlier in the season, when he pointed the finger not at himself but the coaches and even Rodgers for his pass-catching lapses. The third-round draft pick has tremendous athleticism and should be pushing for the starting job by the start of next season. Humphrey also can't be counted out after getting through a full season for the first time in four years and coming up with some big down-the-field catches.
Starters — Desmond Clark, Greg Olsen. Backup — Kellen Davis.
Clark keeps chugging along, but after 10 years he may be nearing the end of the line. Olsen (54 catches, 574 yards) started six games when the Bears opened with two tight ends, but he played more and was more productive in the passing game than Clark, who still put up decent numbers (41 catches, 367 yards). Olsen is expected to be a focal point of the offense for years to come. Davis is miscast in the role of blocking tight end, since his forte is catching the ball and, at 6-foot-7, he provides a great target, but he also has the frame to get bigger than 262 pounds.
Campbell would have been the starter, if healthy. He is a strong blocker who can make catches downfield. But he continued to battle injuries and was out for the season after only one catch. Gaines struggled and committed two huge turnovers that helped cost the Lions games — one at Chicago, one at Carolina. Fitzsimmons is a good special teams player and can catch the ball, but he isn't a good blocker. Owens is a solid role player.
Shiancoe proved to be a bust in 2007 after leaving the Giants to sign a big free-agent contract with the Vikings. However, this season he emerged as the pass-catching tight end Minnesota believed it was getting when it made its original investment. Shiancoe finished tied for the team lead with seven touchdowns and was fourth on the club with 42 receptions for 596 yards. In 2007, Shiancoe had 27 catches for 323 yards and only one touchdown and was plagued by dropped passes. Kleinsasser, who will be an unrestricted free agent, had only six catches for 92 yards but continues to be one of the NFL's best blocking tight ends and would be an extremely difficult player to replace. Mills was bothered by injuries starting in training camp and saw action in only eight games. He has shown that he has pass-catching ability, but his inability to stay on the field could cause the Vikings' patience to grow thin.
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report 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 Lambeau Level forum.
NFC North: TEs must raise game
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