Has Richard Rodgers Reached His Ceiling?

After tight end Jermichael Finley’s career was cut short, the Packers invested a third round pick in California tight end Richard Rodgers in 2014.

Rodgers flashed early – here’s what Pete Dougherty wrote about him at the start of his rookie season:

During a passing period early in the Green Bay Packers' padded practice Monday, Richard Rodgers ran a skinny post route through the middle seam of the defense and slipped past backup safety Chris Banjo.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw a strike, and Rodgers made the half-diving catch just behind Bando for another big gain.

Yes, the completion would have been more noteworthy if Richard Rodgers had made it against Morgan Burnett, Micah Hyde or Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

And no, Rodgers hasn't made a play like that in every practice, offseason and now training camp, since the team drafted him in the third round in May. But he's done it enough to be hard not to notice in what looks like a highly competitive battle for playing time now that Jermichael Finley no longer sits atop the depth chart.

Three years later, Rodgers enters the final year of his rookie contract with a lot to prove. Much like 2014, he’s in the midst of a highly competitive battle for playing time. Unlike 2014, he’s no longer the top dog.

What happened to Richard Rodgers?

What used to be considered a tight end in the NFL, a body type like Richard Rodgers, is on the verge of extinction. In its place is a tight end who likely excelled at basketball growing up and can move as fast as a wide receiver.

(Somewhere in Miami, Bubba Franks should be counting his money and be thankful he wasn’t born ten years later.)

As the primary backup to Jared Cook last season, Rodgers was a rare blend of reliable, yet forgettable as a pass catcher. In 2016, he had only one drop on 47 targets and was graded as an average tight end.

The knock on Rodgers coming out of college was his inability to separate from coverage and relied more on finesse over strength. Now three years into his professional career, those weaknesses have proven to limit his ability to breakthrough as a top offensive weapon.

Will Richard Rodgers make the 53-man roster in 2017?

The Packers passed on drafting a tight end this year, so Rodgers’ spot on the roster is presumably safe heading into training camp. However, the depth at fullback poses a threat to his job.

Fullback Aaron Ripkowski had a fantastic 2016 season and his backup Joe Kerridge was a better blocker and played well on special teams. Rodgers’ spot on the roster could be in jeopardy if both Kerridge and Ripkowski continue to ascend.

Rodgers brings reliable hands and a big body to the roster. Given Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks are athletic, playmaking tight ends, Rodgers’ opportunities to play in the role he did these past three years will be diminished.

What can the Packers expect from Richard Rodgers in 2017?

Rodgers has never filled up the stat sheet, so statistical expectations will be quite low even if he beats out Lance Kendricks as the primary backup to Martellus Bennett.

Rodgers will certainly need to improve his blocking. Over his three seasons, he’s been the responsible blocker for 40 “bad runs,” or a rush for 1 yard or less excluding kneel-downs and successful goal-line and short-yardage carries:

  • 2014: 13
  • 2015: 16.5
  • 2016: 10.5

"When you look at him from his first year to his second year I think he improved (blocking)," tight ends coach Brian Angelichio said in July 2016. "It's hard until you trust your technique and use the snap count as an advantage. You're just looking for consistency. He gives you good effort."