The NFC North does not have an elite tight end in the division, but there is some quality depth at the position. The Minnesota Vikings may have the most complete one-two punch, but the Detroit Lions have the best duo.
The Vikings have a very good receiver in Kyle Rudolph and blocker Rhett Ellison. The Lions have outstanding receivers Brandon Pettigrew and Eric Ebron. The Bears have a pair of quality veterans. The Green Bay Packers have a pair of relatively unproven tight ends. Tight end might be the worst position group on the Packers’ offense.
Here is a ranking of the tight ends projected to be on the two-deep depth chart of the four NFC North teams.
No. 1 - Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings
Rudolph is poised to break out this season. Last season, he was having a very good year until a freak foot injury ended it. New offensive coordinator Norv Turner has a history of developing tight ends - Antonio Gates in San Diego and Jordan Cameron in Cleveland. Rudolph may not have the athleticism of those tight ends, but he does have the receiving skills and proven history that those two did not. Rudolph entered training camp slimmer and quicker than he did in previous seasons, which should make his adjustment from the previous offensive scheme to Turner’s easier.
No. 2 - Martellus Bennett, Chicago Bears
Bennett is a proven receiver for quarterback Jay Cutler. Bennett is best known to Vikings fans for catching the game-winning 16-yard score with 16 seconds remaining in a game against the Vikings in Week 2 at Soldier Field. In just one season with the Bears, Bennett has developed good chemistry with Cutler. He finished tied for eighth among tight ends in receptions and second among tight ends in targets.
No. 3 - Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions
Pettigrew has a proven track record as the Lions second receiver option. However, the sixth-year veteran may be falling out of favor with the team. Over the last two seasons, fumbles have become a concern to go along with the issues he had with drops throughout his career. The Lions have a pair of tight ends that likely will cut into his playing time this season and could push him off the roster in 2015. With that being said, Pettigrew can be effective in any offense as both a receiver and as a blocker.
No. 4 - Eric Ebron, Detroit Lions
Ebron was one of the top rated receivers in the 2014 draft. The Lions felt so strongly about his skills and upside that they selected him with 10th overall pick. He is more receiver than tight end, but his size and speed are very intriguing. He will likely be used in the slot and exclusively as a receiver as a rookie. He needs to improve as a blocker and add strength to his frame.
No. 5 - Rhett Ellison, Minnesota Vikings
Ellison was a surprise selection by the Vikings in the 2012 draft, but the third-year veteran has quickly become a reliable blocker and decent receiver. He is not going to wow anyone with his athleticism or big play capabilities, but he can open a hole for a running back or pick up first downs on short to intermediate passes. Ellison is a very good No. 2 option for the Vikings behind Rudolph.
No. 6 - Andrew Quarless, Green Bay Packers
Quarless spent the last four years as a reserve to Jermichael Finley. Now that Finley is gone, Quarless figures to get more playing time. He played a full 16 game season for the first time in his career last season after sitting out all of 2012 with a horrific leg injury. He hasn’t proven anything yet and most of the NFL world does not know much about him.
No. 7 - Dante Rosario, Chicago Bears
Rosario is a veteran tight end entering his second season with the Bears. He is a reliable pass catcher, but his blocking skills leave something to be desired. Since getting selected in the 2007 draft, he has played for five teams, including the Bears, and four in the last three seasons. He is a depth tight end that will help the Bears’ passing offense, but not too much can be expected of him.
No. 8 - Brandon Bostick, Green Bay Packers
Bostick is an unproven reserve that was signed by the Packers as an undrafted free agent in 2012. He participated on the practice squad that season and then jumped onto the active roster in 2013. He was expected to get more playing this season as the top backup, but a lower leg injury could set him back a few weeks. His absence has allowed undrafted second-year player Jake Stoneburner and third round draft pick rookie Richard Rodgers to compete for the roster spot. Rodgers has led the way and could push Bostick back down the third spot by the time he returns.