Assessing the North: Tight ends

The NFC North teams could see a decent amount of turnover at the tight end position, as two of the top pass-catchers are scheduled to be free agents. We take a look at the tight end situations for each of the NFC North teams.


Chicago Bears

Starter – Kellen Davis. Backups – Matt Spaeth, Andre Smith.

Davis caught just 18 passes for 206 yards, but he led the Bears with five TD receptions, even though blocking was his primary duty. He has enough athleticism, size and ball skills to be more of a pass catcher now that offensive coordinator Mike Martz is gone. Spaeth is also a blocker first, and he did what the Bears asked of him, frequently playing in two-TE sets with Davis. Smith, an undrafted rookie, spent half the season on the practice squad and half as a game-day inactive.


Detroit Lions

Starter – Brandon Pettigrew. Backups – Tony Scheffler and Will Heller.

This is probably as set as any position group on the team. Pettigrew broke his own single-season records for catches and yards. He was, for all intents and purposes, the Lions' run game. Their ground attack consisted of short, safe passes to Pettigrew.

All Scheffler did was catch touchdown passes. He had a career-high six touchdowns in 27 receptions. The Lions used mostly three-receiver and two-tight-end sets after Best was injured. Heller, who started and scored a touchdown against the Saints in the playoff game, was the team's H-back and a key special teams player.


Green Bay Packers

Starter - Jermichael Finley. Backups - Tom Crabtree, Ryan Taylor, D.J. Williams. Injured reserve: Andrew Quarless.

Thompson has a critical decision to make in the coming weeks: whether to use the franchise tag on Finley or let the ultra-talented but maddeningly inconsistent performer reach the open market as an unrestricted free agent for the first time. The on-field chemistry, or lack thereof, between Rodgers and Finley continued to be detrimental this season. As much as Finley was dependable in playing a full season for the first time and producing career-high numbers with 55 catches for 767 yards and eight touchdowns, he led the team with more than a dozen dropped passes. Losing Finley would create a major void given the importance of the position in the passing game. The Packers kept an unprecedented five tight ends on the roster at the start of the season, but the four young backups combined for only 12 catches for 91 yards and two touchdowns. Quarless, a capable pass catcher, is on the comeback trail after suffering a torn ACL in the first meeting with the Giants in early December. Crabtree excels as a blocker. Taylor and Williams had little playing time on offense as rookies, though Taylor stood out for his coverage skills on special teams.


Minnesota Vikings

Starter – Visanthe Shiancoe. Backups – Jim Kleinsasser, Kyle Rudolph, Mickey Shuler.

Shiancoe is an unrestricted free agent who isn't expected to be re-signed. Kleinsasser has retired after 13 seasons. Rudolph, the team's second-round draft pick in 2011, had a promising rookie season and is ready to become the primary receiving tight end on the roster. He has the size (6-6, 258), speed and big, soft hands to present matchup problems for defenders. He'll more than double his 26 catches he had this season. Shiancoe can still play, but he'll be 32 next season. That's too old for a rebuilding team with holes throughout the roster.

Kleinsasser will be sorely missed. He's still one of the best blocking tight ends in the league, if not the best. He could still seal the edge and provide push at the point of attack. Rudolph and Shuler aren't blocking tight ends. Neither is Allen Reisner, a rookie who bounced between the active roster and the practice squad in 2011. Shuler was on the 53-man roster for only one game, the season finale, but didn't play because he sprained an ankle in practice.


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\r\n\r\n","mobileBody":" Starter – Kellen Davis. Backups – Matt Spaeth, Andre Smith. Davis caught just 18 passes for 206 yards, but he led the Bears with five TD receptions, even though blocking was his primary duty. He has enough athleticism, size and ball skills to be more of a pass catcher now that offensive coordinator Mike Martz is gone. Spaeth is also a blocker first, and he did what the Bears asked of him, frequently playing in two-TE sets with Davis. Smith, an undrafted rookie, spent half the season on the practice squad and half as a game-day inactive. Starter – Brandon Pettigrew. Backups – Tony Scheffler and Will Heller. This is probably as set as any position group on the team. Pettigrew broke his own single-season records for catches and yards. He was, for all intents and purposes, the Lions' run game. Their ground attack consisted of short, safe passes to Pettigrew. All Scheffler did was catch touchdown passes. He had a career-high six touchdowns in 27 receptions. The Lions used mostly three-receiver and two-tight-end sets after Best was injured. Heller, who started and scored a touchdown against the Saints in the playoff game, was the team's H-back and a key special teams player. Starter - Jermichael Finley. Backups - Tom Crabtree, Ryan Taylor, D.J. Williams. Injured reserve: Andrew Quarless. Thompson has a critical decision to make in the coming weeks: whether to use the franchise tag on Finley or let the ultra-talented but maddeningly inconsistent performer reach the open market as an unrestricted free agent for the first time. The on-field chemistry, or lack thereof, between Rodgers and Finley continued to be detrimental this season. As much as Finley was dependable in playing a full season for the first time and producing career-high numbers with 55 catches for 767 yards and eight touchdowns, he led the team with more than a dozen dropped passes. Losing Finley would create a major void given the importance of the position in the passing game. The Packers kept an unprecedented five tight ends on the roster at the start of the season, but the four young backups combined for only 12 catches for 91 yards and two touchdowns. Quarless, a capable pass catcher, is on the comeback trail after suffering a torn ACL in the first meeting with the Giants in early December. Crabtree excels as a blocker. Taylor and Williams had little playing time on offense as rookies, though Taylor stood out for his coverage skills on special teams. Starter – Visanthe Shiancoe. Backups – Jim Kleinsasser, Kyle Rudolph, Mickey Shuler. Shiancoe is an unrestricted free agent who isn't expected to be re-signed. Kleinsasser has retired after 13 seasons. Rudolph, the team's second-round draft pick in 2011, had a promising rookie season and is ready to become the primary receiving tight end on the roster. He has the size (6-6, 258), speed and big, soft hands to present matchup problems for defenders. He'll more than double his 26 catches he had this season. Shiancoe can still play, but he'll be 32 next season. That's too old for a rebuilding team with holes throughout the roster. Kleinsasser will be sorely missed. He's still one of the best blocking tight ends in the league, if not the best. He could still seal the edge and provide push at the point of attack. Rudolph and Shuler aren't blocking tight ends. Neither is Allen Reisner, a rookie who bounced between the active roster and the practice squad in 2011. Shuler was on the 53-man roster for only one game, the season finale, but didn't play because he sprained an ankle in practice. 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