22 May 2014 05:09 PM EST
-by Ralph Mancini, Contributing Writer; Image: Richard Rodgers averaged over 15 yards per catch this past season. (Image Source: GoldenBearSports.com)
The Packers came into the 2014 NFL Draft with nine picks and used all of them to address definite need positions. Here’s an inside look at how each selection fits into the team’s plans in the upcoming season and beyond.
Round 3; Pick 34 (98th Overall): TE Richard Rodgers, California
Measurables: The Pac-12 product’s weight has fluctuated quite a bit in recent years. Originally recruited as a traditional tight end by former Cal head coach Jeff Tedford, Rodgers bulked up to 275 pounds as a sophomore. But when Sonny Dykes and his new coaching staff entered the picture, the one-time Massachusetts prep basketball player dropped nearly 30 pounds to his present 257-pound weight in order to play the “F” tight end, which more adequately suited his skills. The third-round pick also owns a pair of large 10 ¼” hands, which has almost become a prerequisite for several teams in the market for a tight end. The underclassman’s hands are bigger than those of a number of top prospects at his position, including Jace Amaro of the N.Y. Jets and Austin Seferian-Jenkins of the Arizona Cardinals.
Skill Set: Green Bay’s new offensive weapon is undoubtedly more of a pass catcher than blocker. Rodgers is a fluid athlete who is quick off the snap and immediately gets into his routes. In addition, he’s very adept at using his hands to snatch passes outside the frame of his body, as well as making contested receptions. Although his route tree was predominantly limited to shallow crosses and out routes, his on-field straight-line speed could allow him to be used on deeper plays even though he was clocked at 4.87 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. But despite his physical attributes, Rodgers remains very much a project since he was routinely underutilized as a collegian. The Packers selected this raw specimen in hopes that he will develop into a much betterplayer in the pros than he was back in Berkley where he would sometimes exhibit the tendency to drop catchable balls. The young man’s real issues, though, are as a blocker. For one, he cannot take on defenders in space as he’ll often miss his man altogether. Moreover, Rodgers was often overpowered as an in-line blocker in that he lacked the ability to latch on to his adversaries and inexplicably stopped his feet on contact. If Rodgers manages to carve out a long career in the pros, it will have to be as a finesse tight end.
Value: The vast majority of people in the draft community viewed Rodgers either as a mid-round pick in the fourth or fifth rounds or as a late-round prospect. The tight-end class was a poor one this year and once the likes of Eric Ebron, Amaro and Seferian-Jenkins were off the board, the pickings were rather slim for those in search of a pass-catching tight end.
Need: Saying the Packers could have used a bit of a talent infusion at tight end would be akin to stating that New Jersey governor Chris Christie could stand to lose a couple of pounds. Green Bay desperately needed someone who could step in and replace Jermichael Finley. That man clearly wasn’t on the roster prior to the draft. Despite playing in only five regular-season games in 2013, Finley had more yards after the catch, broke more tackles and scored as many touchdowns as the rest of the team’s tight ends combined in 16 games. Unfortunately, the one-time Texas Longhorn has yet to be cleared by doctors to resume his career following a devastating neck injury sustained on Oct. 20 versus the Cleveland Browns.
Mancini’s Pick: Honestly, I wasn’t thrilled with Rodgers at the tail end of the third round, but I completely understood the logic behind the selection. The best tight ends were already off the board and GM Ted Thompson obviously saw more offensive upside in Rodgers than he did in other options, such as Crockett Gilmore or Rob Blanchflower to name two. Could Thompson have gone with someone at a different position? He absolutely could have. If he would have opted to go the “best-player-available” route, Thompson may have elected to place his chips on the likes of Brandon Thomas, Devonta Freeman, Bruce Ellington or Aaron Colvin. But at the end of the day, he had five other picks at his disposal and there was no one else at tight end who offered the type of potential Rodgers did…so why pass up your guy and watch a competitor snatch him? Better to get Rodgers a round or two earlier than to come home empty-handed. After much consternation, I fully endorse Green Bay’s pick.
Who Else Did They Pass Up? Small-school cornerback Pierre Desir. The 6’1” cover man has the length, loose hips and fluid backpedal to eventually be an integral part of any defense. The great thing about drafting Desir would have been that the Packers wouldn’t have asked much from him in his rookie year given their wealth of options at the position, including Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward, Sam Shields and Davon House. Williams, however, is 31 years old and his exorbitant contract expires in 2015. Desir could have been groomed to replace the veteran defensive back.
The Fit: Rodgers will compete for a roster spot with Brandon Bostick, Jake Stoneburner, Ryan Taylor and the recently-signed UDFA Colt Lyerla. The top man at the position remains Andrew Quarless, who showed marked improvement and consistency toward the end of his 2013 campaign.
2014 Outlook & Beyond: The raw, but promising Rodgers may not have to set the world on fire during training camp, but he will need to show something in order to earn a roster spot. The presence of Lyerla may create problems for Rodgers in that the troubled, but gifted weapon is the more athletic player with greater upside. The former Oregon Duck’s hands and ability to quickly adjust to passes at full speed make him a special talent. If not for his well-chronicled off-field issues, Lyerla would have been worthy of a first-round pick. Rodgers could be destined for the practice squad.
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