Tight End Clone Army
A while back, the Wall Street Journal did a feature on the Packers' tendency to sign players who stand around 6'2" and weigh about 250 pounds. From the standpoint of getting the most bang for your buck this makes good sense, because it allows you to get guys who can easily transition from one position to another.
For example, a 6'2", 250 pound linebacker should easily be fast enough to play on the kick coverage units, but also big enough to block for field goals, too. The same goes for tight ends, who are generally in the same ballpark physically.
This year's crop of tight ends trend a little bit larger, but they're basically in that neighborhood. Currently the Packers have five players in who stand between 6'2" and 6'4" and weigh between 245 and 254 pounds, basically right in the wheelhouse for the "clone army" theory.
But they can't all make the roster, obviously. In addition to the five clones, the Packers have Jermichael Finley and Matthew Mulligan, their highest paid and biggest tight ends, respectively. Finley is too expensive to cut, and Mulligan was signed for a different reason, although if you wanted you could probably throw him in the group, too.
The point is, we have a bunch of clones now, but we'll thin the herd considerably before the season starts. So who's going to stay and who's going to go? There are going to be some tough calls.
Perhaps none will be tougher than Andrew Quarless. After Jermichael Finley went down in 2010, he held down the fort at tight end, although he never put up numbers that could even be described as noteworthy. Still, he was an NFL starter as a rookie, and that has to count for something. But after an injury plagued 2011 campaign, he missed all of last season, and now he's fighting for a roster spot against younger players that fill the same basic role. Still, he looked strong in OTA's, and he has experience and strong blocking skills. After Finley, he might be the default choice at tight end.
Ryan Taylor finds himself in a similar situation. Entering his third season, he's been a special teams regular, but has only caught two passes in 31 games. He can block, but he'll have to show he can do more if he wants more time on the field.
Taylor's opposite equal is D.J. Williams. A collegiate star for his receiving game, he hasn't shown he can block well enough to stay on the field, and doesn't contribute as much as Taylor in the blocking game. But the potential is there, and if he shows he can block as well as catch passes, he'll be more valuable.
Behind those three, the Packers have two interesting undrafted prospects. They picked up Brandon Bostick last year out of Minnesota and collected Jake Stoneburner this year from Ohio State. Bostick is versatile, and Stoneburner has the best name on the roster. If Bostick can turn the allure of his versatility into actual production and Stoneburner can show that his awesome name needs to be on the back of a game jersey, the Packers could be on to something.
The five clone tight ends are almost too close to call, but if I had to guess, I'd put the Packers' preference in this order:
Quarless gets the nod, if only because he's been here before. And although he's disappointed so far, you have to think Williams and his receiving potential will get a little bit more play over Taylor's limited offensive game. Beyond that, Bostick's familiarity in Green Bay might be enough of a benefit to push him ahead of Stoneburner. That said. Matthew Mulligan's presence on the roster might make any one of these guys expendable, so prognostication might be futile at this point.