Fixing the Packers: One veteran in free agency, one rookie to draft at tight end

Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst has obvious issues to address on his roster this offseason. He’s often used a repeatable plan of attack for fixing roster holes: add one veteran and at least one rookie.

Think Sammy Watkins and Christian Watson. Or Tramon Williams and Jaire Alexander. Or Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage. Or Billy Turner and Elgton Jenkins. Or Za’Darius/Preston Smith and Rashan Gary. Get the picture?

In this series at Packers Wire, the staff will fix a roster hole by picking one veteran to sign in free agency and one rookie to draft. The series begins with the tight end position:

Zach Kruse: Foster Moreau, Darnell Washington

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Sign: Moreau
Draft: Washington

Moreau, a fourth-round pick of the Raiders in 2019, offers real upside as a middle-of-the-field pass-catcher. His RAS of 9.45 coming out of LSU suggests he has the elite athleticism necessary to be a legitimate factor in the passing game, especially after four years of developing within the position. Moreau turns 26 in May and might have his best football still in front of him, so we’re signing him to a multi-year deal and plugging him directly into the Robert Tonyan role in 2023.

Washington is almost too good to be true. He’s the size of Marcedes Lewis and has all the blocking experience and ability necessary to eventually take over the important role as the go-to inline tight end in Matt LaFleur’s system. The bonus here is the elite athleticism displayed at the combine and his untapped potential as a pass-catcher. A player with Big Dog’s skill set physically and the athletic profile of a legitimate weapon in the passing game creates the perfect tight end for this Packers offense.

In Moreau and Washington, the Packers get a likely upgrade on Tonyan in the passing game and a younger, more athletic, near-replica of Lewis.

Brandon Carwile: Austin Hooper, Darnell Washington

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Sign: Hooper
Draft: Washington

The chances of a rookie tight end making an immediate impact are slim, so it’s in the Packers’ best interest to add a projected starter in free agency. Hooper is an intriguing option after he was on Green Bay’s free agent radar in 2020. Ultimately, he signed a lucrative deal with Cleveland, but it was cut short when he failed to build off his final year in Atlanta. Hooper managed to land on his feet in Tennessee last season, finishing with 41 receptions for 444 yards and two touchdowns. Even though Hooper hasn’t turned into the receiving threat people expected, he still has great hands for a tight end and his blocking ability is that of a reliable starter. Still only 28, Hooper would be TE1 for the Packers and may carry an average annual salary of just $6.7 million, according to Spotrac.

Like most people, I was enthralled by Washington’s performance at the NFL combine. His athleticism certainly jumped off the screen, but it wasn’t always on display at Georgia. Washington was predominantly used an in-line blocker and didn’t do much as a receiver until his final season. Washington still needs to improve his technique, but he could turn into a dominant run blocker. That should lead to some early snaps in Green Bay’s offense, filling the Marcedes Lewis’ role, only he won’t be nearly as limited in the passing game. If he can put it all together, Washington has a ton of upside and could be a full-time starter in a year or two.

Paul Bretl: Hayden Hurst, Darnell Washington

Cincinnati Bengals tight end Hayden Hurst (88) hurdles Buffalo Bills safety Jaquan Johnson (4)

Sign: Hurst
Draft: Washington

Most rookie tight ends don’t contribute in a significant way, so the addition of Hurst can provide some stability to the position. Hurst was a steady pass catcher for the Bengals, catching almost 80% of his 82 targets at 8.5 yards per catch. In the playoffs, he ranked third among tight ends in receiving yards and averaged 10.8 yards per catch. Unlike the Packers tight end room in 2022, which included Robert Tonyan, who was used primarily as a pass catcher, while Marcedes Lewis and Josiah Deguara were mainly blockers, Hurst can effectively do both and be moved around the formation, helping Matt LaFleur better achieve that illusion of complexity – or play disguise – he often talks about.

With Hurst providing reliability, Washington would provide the high upside potential. Although known as a blocker at Georgia, he did average over 16 yards per catch in 2022 and ranked among the best in average YAC, while also testing very well at the NFL Combine. Right away, Washington can help the run game and be a red zone threat, with the potential to become a playmaker in the passing game as well.

Brennen Rupp: Drew Sample, Tucker Kraft

Cincinnati Bengals tight end Drew Sample (89)

Sign: Sample
Draft: Kraft

Something tells me that Marcedes Lewis could soon have a New York address. Expect Brian Gutekunst to go bargain bin shopping to bring in a veteran tight end. Drew Sample suffered a season-ending injury this past season and will be had for cheap this offseason. Not that long ago, Sample posted 40 receptions for 349 yards and one touchdown. Nothing sexy, but the Packers just need a placeholder to help ease in whatever rookie tight end Gutekunst selects in the upcoming draft. Sample isn’t a name that’s going to move the needle. What he will do is come in and provide the Packers with a quality blocking tight end. Maybe not at the level of Lewis, but he’ll get the job done.

Let’s pair the serviceable Sample with Tucker Kraft. The South Dakota State product has sort of become the forgotten man in this tight end class. That’s okay, Green Bay will be back to snatch him in the second round.
Kraft has natural pass-catching skills. A high school running back, Kraft is a YAC threat with the ball in his hands. Kraft is an exceptional blocker and keeps his legs driving at contact to create movement. Rookie tight ends typically take time, but Kraft has the tools to provide an impact early on during his rookie season.

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire