Green Bay Packers: Richard Rodgers has miles to go


Green Bay Packers tight end Richard Rodgers was expected to enjoy a second-year jump in 2015. With Jordy Nelson lost for the season, a strong running game to freeze linebackers and limited competition at his position, Rodgers has had several factors tilted in his favor. With 205 yards on 23 receptions through the first seven weeks of the season, his limitations are becoming more prominent than his potential.

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“I think he’s done a good job of catching the balls that have been thrown to him, getting where he needs to be,” tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot tells Michael Cohen of the Journal-Sentinel. “I think in the last game against Denver he could do some better things in the run game, and we’re always talking about that, how to improve our fundamentals, how to increase our production there.”

Fontenot couldn’t have described it better: Rodgers catches the balls thrown to him. Hard stop. The 6’4″, 260-pound Cal product was viewed as an overdraft in the third round of 2014, but Packers fans have learned to give general manager Ted Thompson the benefit of the doubt. His limited athletic skills and measurables are keeping Rodgers grounded, however, and leaving the packers with a catch-and-fall tight end.

Gone are the days of Jermichael Finley, the rare athletic specimen who average 12.0 or more yards per reception in all but one of his six seasons with the Packers. Finley possessed not only the long speed, but the short-area wiggle to turn eight yards into 11, 15 yards into 19. Rodgers hasn’t shown that yet.

The limited sample size of Rodgers is difficult to extrapolate much long-term analysis from, but through his first 23 catches this season, he’s averaged just 8.9 yards per reception. At the same time, he does offer big, reliable hands and the ability to post up on defenders and box them out.

Oct 18, 2015; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers tight end Richard Rodgers (82) reaches for a pass in the end zone while San Diego Chargers defensive back Darrell Stuckey (25) defends during the fourth quarter at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

“But I will say that Rich (Rodgers) does a great job with his efficiency of his feet. His body control is very good. And he gets a chance to use his body more than guys that are speed guys, per se,” Fontenot added.

The issue with this style, obviously, is that he’s frequently catching the football flat-footed and within one yard of his defender. Yet still, there is room for players like this in the league. If they can block.

Therein lies my greatest area of disapointment with Rodgers through the first two months, as his blocking on the edge has taken a significant step backwards after showing some promise late in 2014. He appears at times hesitant, overmatched, out-of-position and everything in between. Some late flashes last season showed us why Green Bay valued him in the third round, but now, we’re seeing why other teams had him valued in the sixth.

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One thing that continues to work in his favor is the complete lack of challenge from the depth behind him. Justin Perillo will get the odd look and I’d like to see Mitchell Henry given a greater opportunity, but rookie Kennard Backman has yet to build up the in-game trust and nuance with quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Andrew Quarless, who was a ghost earlier in the season, is on injured reserve with a designation to return after suffering a knee injury.

Richard Rodgers does not turn 24 until late January, so while his potential ceiling is shifting into focus, he must work to round out these smaller points of his game. Perhaps he profiles much better as a 1B tight end than a 1A, but as Green Bay’s 1A-by-default, the Packers offense no longer has time for a learning curve.