TOP 10 TIGHT ENDS IN PACKERS HISTORY
We continue our Packers Top 10 series by looking at the tight end position. A position which continues to evolve as the emphasis on the passing game continues to increase in the NFL. Packers tight ends have come in several shapes and sizes but only a select few have been able to demonstrate exceptional skill and prowess in both receiving and blocking. Hopefully we have captured the essence of that select few in our top 10.
There was a single qualifying criterion used for eligibility onto this list:
Tight end must have been the player’s primary identifiable position for the Packers, for at least a 3-season period – this specifically excluded players who may have, on occasion, lined up “tight” but would be more commonly identified as having played in another position e.g. Don Hutson and Lavvie Dilweg.
1. Ron Kramer, Packers 1957-64
1st Round Draft Pick (4th overall) 1957.
NFL 50th Anniversary Team.
1st Team All-Pro (1962).
2nd Team All-Pro (1963).
Pro Bowler (1962,63).
2-time NFL Champion (1961,62).
Packers Hall of Fame Inductee (1975).
Packers All-Modern Era Team (1976).
Michigan Sports Hall of Fame Inductee (1971).
College Football Hall of Fame Inductee (1978).
University of Michigan Hall of Honor Inductee (1978).
NCAA Silver Anniversary Award (1981).
89 games played (67 starts) for the Packers with 170 receptions for 2,594 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Ron Kramer is regarded as one of the pioneers of the modern-day tight end position - he was one of the first players to be equally as effective as a blocker and pass receiver from the tight end spot. He was nicknamed “Lombardi’s twelfth man”, because with Kramer it was like having an extra man on the offense – a blocker who was equally adept at catching passes or a pass receiver who was equally proficient at blocking. The Packers’ Power Sweep was at its most effective when he was in his prime in 1961 and 1962. An all-round (football, basketball, track and field), all-time great athlete at the University of Michigan, Kramer was a 2-time consensus All-American (1955,56) before being the Packers first round draft pick in 1957. He would later become one of just a handful of players to have his number retired by the Wolverines.
With the Packers, Kramer was one of the driving forces behind two championship teams and a third that made it to the championship game. It is very likely that he would have gone on to the Pro Football Hall of Fame had he not requested to return home to Detroit, for personal reasons after the 1964 season. It was a request that Vince Lombardi obliged – with a heavy heart.
But Ron Kramer will always be remembered as a Packer great. His receiving numbers don’t compare to those of the modern passing era – although he does own the Packers career record for a TE for yards per catch (15.3).
For his pioneering role at the tight end position, for his influence on the Packers offense and for his skill and production in the field, Ron Kramer earns his place at the very top of this list.
2. Paul Coffman, Packers 1978-85
Undrafted Free Agent 1978.
3-time Pro Bowler (1982,83,84).
NEA 2nd Team All-Pro (1984).
2-time UPI & PFW 1st Team All-Conference (1983,84).
AP 2nd Team All-Conference (1982).
Packers Hall of Fame Inductee (1994).
119 games played (102 starts) for the Packers with 322 receptions for 4,223 yards and 39 touchdowns.
As an undrafted free agent, the expectations weren’t high when Paul Coffman walked into the Packers training camp in 1978. Eight seasons later his Packers career ended with him sitting proudly atop the all-time receiving lists for a Packets TE in receptions (322), yards (4,223) and touchdowns (39).
Coffman and quarterback Lynn Dickey combined to be one of the top TE-QB partnerships of the early 1980s – highlighted by their 35 touchdown hook-ups, a record number for a Packers TE-QB combination. With all these receiving statistics, you can see that Coffman was a superb pass catcher from the TE spot – able to catch short and intermediate passes over the middle as well as being a deep threat, outrunning linebackers and safeties (he also owns the record for the longest reception by a Packers TE – a 78-yard reception from David Whitehurst against Miami in 1979).
Coffman was a willing blocker, even if he wasn’t quite at the level of Ron Kramer in this facet of the game – and that’s the primary reason he’s at no.2 on this list.
But as a pure receiving tight end, Coffman has no peer in Packers history. As well as holding all the career marks as previously described, he also holds the single season Packers tight end marks for receiving yards (814 in 1983) and touchdowns (11, also in 1983). Coffman is also the only Packer tight end to ever lead the team in receiving in a single season – 56 receptions in 1979. He was also the first Packers tight end to ever record a 100-yard receiving game (1979) and has 6 such games (the most for a Packers TE).
Paul Coffman was an integral part of one of the most exciting offenses in the team’s history. And his part in that will never be forgotten.
3. Mark Chmura, Packers 1993-99
6th Round Draft pick (157th overall) 1992.
3-time Pro Bowler (1995,97,98).
CPF & FD 1st Team All-Pro (1995).
PFW 1st Team All-Conference (1995).
Super Bowl Champion (XXXI).
2-time NFC Champion (1996,97).
NFL Alumni TE of the Year (1998).
Packers Hall of Fame Inductee (2010).
89 games played (62 starts) for the Packers with 188 receptions for 2,253 yards and 17 touchdowns
Chewy ended his college career as Boston College’s all-time leading receiver with 164 receptions (a mark which is still 4th on the school’s all-time list) before being drafted by the Packers in 1992.
A kind of 1990s incarnation of Ron Kramer in that he was an all-round tight end, Mark Chmura was a strong blocker with good hands and the ability to get open on short to intermediate routes. He wasn’t a deep threat but had deceptive speed and, more significantly, the ability and toughness to go over the middle and make the chain moving catch – he was also an end-zone threat.
Unfortunately, Chmura’s career was curtailed prematurely due to a neck (disc herniation) injury suffered in 1999.
4. Jermichael Finley, Packers 2008-13
3rd Round Draft pick (91stoverall) 2008.
Super Bowl Champion (XLVI).
NFC Champion (2010)
70 games played (48 starts) for the Packers with 223 receptions for 2,785 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Jermichael Finley is likely to be remembered as a mercurial talent who never quite lived up to his undoubted talent – at least not over a sustained period of time - and yet for the period in which he was healthy, he delivered some of the best receiving numbers ever recorded by a Packers tight end.
Certainly, a better receiver than blocker, he notched up 2,785 career receiving yards – which is second most by a Packers tight end (behind Coffman). He also owns the Packer tight end record for most receptions in a single season (61 catches in 2012) and the second highest single-season yardage mark for a Packers tight end (767 in 2011).
Finley also had the biggest single day by a tight end in Packer history when he had 159 yards receiving against the Cardinals in the 2009 play-offs.
Unfortunately for Finley, he was out with a knee injury when the packers won Super Bowl XLVI, having played in only 5 games that year (2010). A helmet to helmet blow in 2013, which later led to a spinal cord contusion diagnosis led to his career ending after just 6 seasons.
5. Marv Fleming, Packers 1963-69
11th Round Draft pick (154th overall) 1963.
3-time NFL Champion (1965,66,67).
2-time Super Bowl Champion (I,II).
Packers Hall of Fame Inductee (2010).
95 games played (67 starts) for the Packers with 109 receptions for 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Drafted in 1963, Marv Fleming became the Packers starting tight end in 1965 when Ron Kramer went home to Detroit. Fleming fulfilled the role with great effectiveness for 5 seasons as the starter (7 in total) before himself moving on to the Don Shula coached Miami Dolphins… where he continued his hugely successful career.
Fleming is one of the very few players with 5 NFL Championships (3 with Green Bay, 2 with Miami) and 4 Super Bowl wins (2 with Green Bay, 2 with Miami). He was also the first player to appear in 5 Super Bowls (I, II, VI, VII, VIII).
An outstanding blocker throughout his career, he was prominent in helping both the Packers and Dolphins’ running games be as good as any in pro football.
6. Rich McGeorge, Packers 1970-78
1st Round Draft pick (16th overall) 1970.
Packers Offensive Player of the Year (1973).
College Football Hall of Fame Inductee (2012)
116 games played (101 starts) for the Packers with 175 receptions for 2,370 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Rich McGeorge was an outstanding pass catcher and deep threat from the tight end spot for most of the 1970s. He wasn’t known as an outstanding blocker but more than made up for it with his receiving skills. McGeorge averaged 13.5 yards per reception, on 175 catches, which is the second highest per reception average in Packers tight end history. He is also the owner of the highest single season yards per reception average in Packers tight end annals – 17.1 yards per reception in 1971.
After his playing career was over he went to become a very fine assistant coach in the pros (NFL, USFL and XFL) and in college.
If you didn’t get to see Rich McGeorge play, think of him as the 1970s version of Paul Coffman – but on an offense that featured the run more than the pass.
7. Bubba Franks, Packers 2000-07
1st Round Draft pick (14th overall) 2000.
3-time Pro Bowler (2001,02,03).
NFL Alumni Tight End of the Year (2002).
114 games played (94 starts) for the Packers with 256 receptions for 2,300 yards and 32 touchdowns.
Bubba Franks was a solid tight end between the 20-yard lines, but in the red zone he was a terror. He became Brett Favre’s go-to receiver in the early 2000’s when the Packers offense was anywhere near the goal line.
Franks played for the Packers for 8 seasons and snared 32 touchdown catches – the second most for a tight end in Packers history (behind Paul Coffman). He was previously an All-American at the University of Miami in his senior season (1999) which led to him being the Packers 1st Round Draft pick in 2000 – the last time Green Bay selected a tight end in the 1st round and the first time since Rich McGeorge in 1970.
Franks turned out to be highly productive in the red zone and an effective, if not prolific, receiver and blocker in other parts of the field.
8. Jackie Harris, Packers 1990-93
4th Round Draft pick (102nd overall).
2nd Team NEA All-Pro (1992).
60 games played (32 starts) for the Packers with 133 receptions for 1,620 yards and 9 touchdowns
Jackie Harris was a prolific receiving tight end in division 1-AA college ball at Louisiana-Monroe – ending his career as the school’s all-time leading receiver. This led to him being drafted by the Packers in the 4th round in 1990.
Harris had exceptional speed not normally found in a tight end, leading to some calling him a “wide receiver in a tight end’s body”. That speed came to the fore when hooking up with Brett Favre in the passer’s early days with the Packers – 1992 in particular, when Harris caught 55 passes, a mark which was the second highest in the league that year for tight ends.
In 1993, he caught 42 passes (despite missing 4 games through injury). Unfortunately, 1993 was his last year as a Packer – he left for the Buccaneers as a high-priced free agent in 1994. Never known as much of a blocker, Harris could have been one of the most prolific pass catching tight ends in Packers history had he stayed in Green Bay – nonetheless his four seasons were enough to earn him his place on this list.
9. Ed West, Packers 1984-1994
Undrafted Free Agent 1984.
167 games played (104 starts) for the Packers with 202 receptions for 2,321 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Nicknamed “The Toolbox” Ed West was a fine blocking tight end, who developed into a solid receiver as his career progressed. He was probably in the middle of the pack of NFL tight ends during most of his career, but he was able to play at a high enough level for long enough to play more games at the position (167) than any other player in Packers history. West played a couple of years behind Paul Coffman before becoming the starter in 1986 and sustaining his career through to the early Mike Holmgren era in 1994. In Holmgren’s offense though he was replaced by Jackie Harris and his Green Bay days were numbered. His solid play and longevity earns Ed West his spot on this list.
10. Gary Knafelc, Packers 1954-62
2nd Round Draft Pick (14th overall) 1954.
90 games played (50 starts).
2-time NFL Champion (1961,62).
Packers Hall of Fame Inductee (1976).
90 games played (50 starts) for the Packers with 134 receptions for 1,930 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Gary Knafelc started his career for the Packers at wide receiver, where he authored some memorable moments, before being switched to tight end by Vince Lombardi. He became the starter for a while before giving way to the number one player on this list, Ron Kramer. Knafelc was big for a wideout in his day - around 6-4 and nearly 220 pounds – hence his switch to the physically demanding tight end spot, where he was a little undersized. But he was a talented receiver with excellent hands and a willing blocker, who worked hard to make the Packers Sweep a success when he was called upon.
Many may be too young to remember seeing Gary Knafelc play for the Packers, but if you attended a home game between 1964 and 2004 you’ve probably heard his voice – he was the stadium announcer for the Packers for 40 years.
Keith Jackson – Great receiving TE, Super Bowl winner, but didn’t meet the 3-year criteria
Donald Lee – 178 receptions as a Packer
Tyrone Davis – 71 receptions as a Packer
Richard Rodgers – holder of the Packers single game regular season receiving yardage mark
Gary Lewis – Kick blocker extraordinaire
Further info: How did we determine the Top 10?
The criteria used for determining the order of players on this list included:
Being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame
Being named to an NFL All-Anniversary Team
Being named to a Green Bay Packers All-Time Team
Being inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame
Being named to a 1st Team All-Pro, 2nd Team All-Pro, All-Conference and/or Pro Bowl Team
Being widely considered as a revolutionary player at his position
Influence/importance to the team(s) on which they played, also accounting for the success of the teams on which they played
Analysis of statistics including receptions, yards, touchdowns, games played, games started all with consideration to the era in which they were achieved
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