With two third-round draft choices at his disposal, Packers general manager Ted Thompson could get himself some positive PR by drafting a heck of a TE.
There's a pretty good chance that record-setting tight end Chase Coffman — the son of Packers Hall of Fame tight end Paul Coffman — will be available when the Packers make the 73rd overall selection of the draft. And he might be there at No. 83, too.
Big-time production, haunting questions
Chase Coffman, who at 6-foot-6 looks down on his dad by 3 inches, caught a whopping 247 passes in Missouri's wide-open spread offense. Chase, a tight end in name only in college because he split out wide most of the time and has barely any experience as an in-line blocker, concluded his stellar career by winning the Mackey Award as college football's best tight end after catching 90 passes for 987 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"He's an extraordinarily gifted pass catcher and has been for some time," Packers general manager Ted Thompson said at the Scouting Combine. "It's a big step. Now, he played in an offense that was a spread offense. He was officially their tight end but they did not line him up in a three-point stance, they didn't use him to block. So, one of the big questions that we'll have going forward — all NFL teams will — is how well can he assimilate himself into a real tight end as far as how we use tight ends in the NFL."
Health questions dogged Coffman through the offseason, too. A broken foot suffered late in Missouri's Alamo Bowl victory over Northwestern sidelined him for the predraft process. He also needed foot surgery between his junior and senior seasons and missed two games during his senior season with turf toe. All of that, scouts fear, has taken away some of his speed, and he never was a speed demon to begin with.
Nonetheless, the production is impossible to overlook. He's the NCAA's career record-holder in receptions by a tight end by a wide margin. It's not just the catches but how he made those catches. It doesn't matter if the ball is too high or too low or behind him. If it's in the area, he'll catch it. Scouts say either Coffman or Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree have the best hands in the draft. And at 6-foot-6, he's an imposing target. It's an intriguing combination, regardless of 40 times.
Strong year for tight ends
Question is, with the Packers needing to add young talent at defensive end, nose tackle, outside linebacker and offensive tackle, can Thompson afford to use an early pick at a position where the Packers spent a third-rounder last year on promising Jermichael Finley?
If Coffman is clearly the best player on Thompson's draft board at that time, the answer is yes. But if Thompson likes other tight ends as much as Coffman and feels he can get one of them later, then Coffman likely won't be wearing green and gold.
Florida's Cornelius Ingram, Wisconsin's Travis Beckum and Rice's James Casey are catch-first tight ends who could be available in the fourth round. That's especially true of Casey, who caught 111 passes for 13 touchdowns last year. He is an offensive coordinator's dream project because of his stunning athleticism (he rushed for six touchdowns, too) and pass-catching abilities, plus his ability to throw the ball — he spent three years playing minor-league baseball for the White Sox as a flame-throwing right-hander.
If Thompson wants a pass-catcher, go with Casey because of his ability to be a thorn in the sides of defenses just from a preparation standpoint. But with the catch-first Finley already on board, the tight end Thompson has in mind could be a blocker, such as North Carolina's Richard Quinn. So, most likely, Coffman's NFL dreams won't come true in the stadium that his father called home.
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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 email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport