So far this off-season, the Packers have added two new receiving threats at the tight end position in Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks. With these additions, the tight end position has been completely remodeled so Mike McCarthy must adjust his offense accordingly. Both Bennett and Kendricks are reliable veteran players coming off career years. They will almost certainly garner more targets and prove more effective than the tandem of Jared Cook and Richard Rodgers.
Aaron Rodgers has a variety of weapons surrounding him, but there are only so many passes to go around. Here’s a look at how the additions of Bennett and Kendricks will affect the Packers passing game in 2017.
Predicting Green Bay Packers Receiving Totals
Last season Rodgers set career highs in completions (401) and pass attempts (610) by a wide margin. Assuming he’s not throwing at such a high rate next year, since the Packers hope to find balance in the running game, Rodgers will probably throw closer to his career average in attempts. For the purpose of this exercise, assume Rodgers will complete 375 of 575 passes or about 65%. Injuries obviously could vastly alter these projections, but as with any off-season predictions pretend the wear and tear of the NFL doesn’t hurt any of the Packers offensive weapons next season. So let’s start off with Rodgers’ favorite target.
2016 Stats: 97 catches, 1,257 yards, 14 touchdowns; 13.0 avg.
Prediction: 85 catches, 1,215 yards, ten touchdowns; 14.3 avg.
Jordy Nelson was targeted on almost a quarter of Rodgers’s 610 passes in 2016. Almost force fed at times, Nelson was Rodgers’s security blanket on third downs and especially in the redzone. Any time a play would break down and Rodgers could buy time, Nelson seemed to be the only target capable of creating separation to get open. Nelson responded by leading the league in touchdown catches for the first time in his career en route to winning Comeback Player of the Year honors.
It will be difficult for Nelson to replicate those totals from a season ago due to the additions of Bennett and Kendricks. Both tight ends should shift the focus of the Packers offense, especially in the redzone. As the Packers employ more two and three tight end sets and open up play action near the goal line, Nelson’s scramble drills with his quarterback should be less frequent. Bennett and Kendricks are large tight ends that can line up across the field and stretch the middle deep. This means more one-on-one coverage for Nelson, but also healthy competition for touchdowns.
2016 Stats: 75 catches, 997 yards, 12 touchdowns; 13.3 avg.
Prediction: 72 catches, 1,044 yards, eight touchdowns; 14.5 avg.
Davante Adams had a breakout season one year later than many expected. After being forced into the WR1 role in his sophomore season due to Nelson’s ACL injury, Adams appeared to be over-matched and couldn’t convert a high volume of targets into production. In a reasonably healthy season for Adams and the rest of the Packers receiving corps, he was a very successful second fiddle to Nelson. So much so that he tied for second in the NFL with 12 touchdowns, behind only his counterpart, while just missing the 1,000 yard threshold.
Adams now enters year four with the Packers and the pressure is on him to produce in a contract year. Adams did the majority of his damage last season on deep slants and fade routes in the endzone. As in the case with Nelson, the tight ends should eat up a sizable amount of redzone targets, leading to a dip in Davante’s touchdown catches. That being said, Adams showed enough last season for the Packers to get him involved often and in a variety of ways. In the final season of his rookie contract, Adams should have the first 1,000-yard season of his career while improving on the drops that have plagued him thus far in his career.
2016 Stats: 60 catches, 610 yards, four touchdowns; 10.2 avg.
Prediction: 62 catches, 744 yards, four touchdowns; 12 avg.
Randall Cobb is one of the most difficult pass-catchers to predict, because Packer fans might have to accept they have seen the best from the 26-year-old. Yes, he’s had difficulty staying healthy, but Cobb has digressed since signing a four-year, $40 million contract after an incredible 2014 campaign where he scored 12 touchdowns and posted over 1,200 yards.
Cobb has had career lows in yards per catch in successive years, and hasn’t shown the burst or quickness from his early years. Although he still has a solid catch rate and strong hands when attacking the ball, as seen in the playoff game against the Giants. The additions of the tight ends hurt Cobb’s case not only in the redzone, but where he makes his plays in the slot. Bennett and Kendricks should thrive in the middle of the field where Cobb typically does his work. Cobb could be anywhere from cap casualty to dominant slot receiver by the start of 2017, but for now he figures to have another adequate, role player type season.
2016 Stats: 12 catches, 202 yards, two touchdowns; 16.8 avg.
Prediction: 30 catches, 450 yards, four touchdowns; 15.0 avg.
Geronimo Allison didn’t come on until late in the 2016 season after going undrafted, but he seemed to make an immediate impact as a third receiver when Cobb and Adams missed time down the stretch. Allison’s statistics in limited action aren’t eye-popping by any means, but he finished the year third on the team in targets per route run, showing a rapport with Rodgers not typically found in first year receivers.
Furthermore, he knows how to get open and converted his opportunities when called upon. Allison should head into the season as the team’s number four receiver and can fill in at either slot or boundary receiver when necessary.
2016 Stats(with New England): 55 catches, 701 yards, seven touchdowns; 12.7 avg.
Prediction: 60 catches, 765 yards, eight touchdowns; 12.75 avg.
The gem of free agency for Green Bay, Bennett begins the transformation of Mike McCarthy’s offense. Bennett is an old-school gritty player not afraid to block, barrel through defenders on short passes, or split out wide and spread the defense. Additionally, he’s a high-volume dependable target capable of thriving in the Packers west coast scheme.
Jared Cook caught just under 59 percent of the passes thrown his way last year, although made an obvious impact when he was able to stay on the field. Bennett is a better tight end than Cook, and converted on 75 percent of the passes thrown his way last year for over 700 yards and a career-high eight touchdowns.
The Packers run a similar match-up style offense as the Patriots that can cause a player’s production to fluctuate based on the opponent, so Bennett might not put up the most gaudy numbers in the league. Having said that, he won’t need to. Bennett, will be an important cog in a championship-caliber offense looking for a few pieces to reach the Super Bowl, a goal he is very familiar with.
2016 Stats(with LA Rams): 50 catches, 499 yards, two touchdowns; 10.0 avg.
Prediction: 22 catches, 250 yards, four touchdowns; 11.4 avg.
The signing of Kendricks was equally, if not more surprising than signing Bennett, simply because it seemed the tight end position was ‘fixed’ with Richard Rodgers also residing on the roster. Kendricks adds a third body to the rotation but should have a particular role to carve out for himself.
Kendricks was recently cut by the L.A. Rams and couldn’t have imagined getting an offer from his hometown Packers. Kendricks’ dream scenario continues as he has never played with a quarterback the caliber of Aaron Rodgers. Kendricks is less of a blocker than Bennett and isn’t quite as physically imposing, but the former Badger and Ram can stretch the middle of the field on seam routes and provide another quick tight end near the goal line. Mike McCarthy will develop new two tight end sets to get both Kendricks and Bennett on the field together, making it impossible for defenses to defend both the run and pass.
2016 Stats: 30 catches, 271 yards, two touchdowns; 9.0 avg.
Prediction: 6 catches, 48 yards, two touchdowns; 8.0 avg.
Rodgers is included on this list if only to show the downside of the recent tight end additions. A year-and-a-half removed from one of the greatest plays in Packers history, Rodgers finds himself outmatched in a room full of more physically gifted players. Rodgers has been a fine player since being a third-round draft pick in 2014, but he doesn’t bring a strong overall game to the table.
The man has incredible hands; that much is certain, and he has improved on his blocking ability over the years, but Bennett is much better and stronger. Perhaps most disappointing about Rodgers’ game is his inability to break a tackle, something Bennett and Kendricks thrive at. Rodgers should make the roster with little issue, but expect him to find the field little outside of run heavy formations.
2016 Stats: 44 catches, 348 yards, no touchdowns; 7.9 avg.
Prediction: 33 catches, 330 yards, three touchdowns; 10.0 avg.
With a healthy off-season, many might believe Ty Montgomery eclipses his receiving totals from last season. With his commitment to become the Packers’ lead dog in the backfield though, he shouldn’t be needed to catch as many passes next year. Screens should become a strong point of the Packers arsenal with Montgomery’s hands and shiftiness to avoid defenders out of the backfield, but he shouldn’t be needed in the slot as much.
Aaron Rodgers should also utilize more dump offs to running backs instead of dancing around in the pocket as long. Montgomery should be very effective and efficient in the passing game, but McCarthy should keep him fresh for running out fourth quarters rather than rely on his versatility as a pass-catcher.
Leaving some room for role players and fullback Aaron Ripkowski‘s production, the predictions above should signify a potent Packers aerial attack in 2017. Bennett and Kendricks join an experienced and dangerous arsenal for quarterback Aaron Rodgers to play with. North of 4,500 yards and 40 touchdowns should be a realistic goal for the two-time MVP.
This is the best supporting cast around Rodgers since Greg Jennings, Jermichael Finley, and the great Donald Driver. Two offensive free agent signings are all Packer nation needed to give Ted Thompson a small break. Here’s hoping he adds a few more defensive pieces to complement a truly championship-caliber offense.