Two teams in the NFC North made national headlines this offseason due to their tight end transactions. The Detroit Lions surprised many when they decided to cut ties with former first-round pick Eric Ebron, while the Green Bay Packers turned heads for the second offseason in a row, this time by adding All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham.
In other words, the tight end landscape in the NFC North has changed quite a bit in just a single year. Here’s how the four teams stack up against each other at the tight end position in 2018.
1. Green Bay Packers (Jimmy Graham, Marcedes Lewis, Lance Kendricks)
I can already hear you now, comment section. I’m overreacting to the Jimmy Graham signing just like the media overreacted to the Packers adding Martellus Bennett last year. I have two responses for that: First, Jimmy Graham has always been, and still is, a better tight end than Bennett in this league. Graham has five seasons of 800+ receiving yards, Bennett has one. Granted, Graham has only had one of those seasons in his past three years, but the talented tight end is still a force. He had 10 touchdowns last year (a milestone, mind you, that Bennett never hit).
Additionally, this is just as much about the addition of Marcedes Lewis. The Packers went out and signed the best run-blocking tight end from 2017, according to Pro Football Focus.
Packers' target Marcedes Lewis was the top graded run blocker among tight ends last season according to @PFF. Wasn't over a small sample size, either. 517 run-blocking snaps. Could be ideal complement at TE.— Zach Kruse (@zachkruse2) May 23, 2018
Of all four NFC North teams, the Packers have the most proven talent at tight end. It’s not really all that debateable.
2. Minnesota Vikings (Kyle Rudolph, David Morgan, Tyler Conklin)
The Vikings’ tight end crew is nicely rounded out. They have a veteran pass-catcher in Kyle Rudolph—who is just a year removed from an 83-catch, 840-yard performance and has 15 touchdowns over the past two years. They have one of the best blocking tight ends in David Morgan (third in run blocking, per PFF). And now they have a young, developmental player in 2018 fifth-round pick Tyler Conklin.
None of these guys will wow you, but Rudolph is a two-time Pro Bowler and Morgan is certainly underappreciated. This is an underrated group in the division.
3. Chicago Bears (Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen, Dion Sims)
The Bears and Lions round out this list as it seems both teams are banking on serious improvement from their tight end crew. For Chicago, the hope is that Trey Burton, who comes from a modest four years in Philly, will build on a solid 2017 campaign. Burton is a well-round player who can block fairly well and caught five touchdowns last year. However, he has never been a true No. 1 tight end, and that may be his role this year in Chicago. At least that’s how they’re paying him; the Bears handed Burton a four-year, $32 million deal, so they are expecting big things out of him.
Adam Shaheen also comes in with high expectations as a 2017 second-round pick. He showed flashes in his rookie year, but injuries and poor overall offensive play limited his production to just 12 catches for 127 yards and three touchdowns.
4. Detroit Lions (Luke Willson, Michael Roberts, Levine Toilolo)
The Lions are similarly relying on drastic improvement from their new tight end crew. Luke Willson has a little more proven production than Chicago’s Burton, but he, too, has rarely seen any work as a No. 1 tight end.
Again, much like Chicago, the Lions will be relying on a second-year player to break out in 2018. Roberts didn’t see much playing time at all last year, and only managed to catch a mere four passes. The path may be there for a breakout season from Roberts, but that is all hypothetical at this point.