In the fourth in a series of position-by-position looks at the Packers’ personnel entering the 2011 offseason, we analyze Green Bay’s TE situation.
Overview: After first-stringer Jermichael Finley was lost for the season in Week Five, the TE position went from being a major strength to a major work in progress, with fifth-round rookie Andrew Quarless mostly sputtering on the fly after becoming the new starter well before he was anywhere close to really being ready for such a role.
That the Packers’ passing offense finished the season ranked fifth in passing yards and third in average gain per pass play without Finley is a testament to just how much QB Aaron Rodgers and the team’s WR corps rose to the occasion after losing their designated receiving centerpiece.
While Quarless displayed some flashes, veteran Donald Lee came through with TD catches in each of the last two regular-season games and undrafted rookie Tom Crabtree followed suit with the Packers’ first postseason TD catch against the Eagles, Green Bay’s TE corps minus Finley was serviceable at best.
Here’s a breakdown of each of the tight ends on the roster:
Jermichael Finley: There were great expectations entering the 2010 season for Finely after he finished the previous year with a team record-setting 159-yard receiving effort in the wild-card playoff loss to the Cardinals. At the time he suffered his season-ending knee injury in Week Five against the Redskins, Finley was on pace to catch 84 passes for 1,204 yards (Dallas’ Jason Witten was the leader among NFL tight ends with 1,202 receiving yards). A big, fast, sure-handed target who is equally comfortable lining up outside as a split receiver, the 6-foot-5 Finley provides consistent matchup problems and is widely considered to have elite ability at his position. But major knee injuries the past two seasons are legitimate cause for concern.
Andrew Quarless: A raw talent with Finley-like athleticism, Quarless certainly stands to benefit from being force-fed as a starter last season. His blocking got better, and, to his credit, he didn’t make many mistakes. But Quarless dropped more passes per opportunity than any of the team’s tight ends and needs to spend major time in the weight room this offseason.
Tom Crabtree: A solid run blocker and special-teamer, Crabtree exceeded expectations. Catching passes is not his strong suit, but he got the job done when called upon (catching four of the seven regular-season passes thrown to him) and has received praise for his work ethic.
Donald Lee: It would be a big surprise if Lee, a loyal solider who has seen his better days, is back with the team next season. Lee caught just about every pass that came his way (11-of-12, including three TDs), but his opportunities steadily declined as the season wore on.
Spencer Havner: Havner, who had been released before last season after scoring five TDs among his nine catches in 2009, was re-signed in November. But he lasted only two games before going on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. Like Lee, Havner is not expected to return next season.
Bottom Line: If Finley can stay healthy, the Packers’ passing attack could be even more dangerous than it was last season, which is definitely saying something. Quarless, who should be better with a year of experience, and the hardworking Crabtree round out what looks like a very solid three-deep lineup at tight end.