Earlier today we looked at the wide receivers around the NFC North and tried to identify where the Bears matched up. This time, we'll take another segment of the passing game into account (as well as the running game) as we examine the tight ends - of which the NFC North has some really good ones.
Let's hit the jump and get into it.
For purposes of this, I'll be including Tyler Clutts as a fullback. It's really difficult to pinhole where the Bears are with their tight end situation, just based on their pattern of usage over the last couple years. Davis led the team with five touchdown catches (on only eighteen receptions, nonetheless). Spaeth is a decent blocker, though I wouldn't ask him to take on a defensive end one-on-one. And Rodriguez appears to be a receiving threat with just enough blocking ability to be able to chip, but not really to sustain a block. The magic 8-ball at this point is saying "Check back later."
Shiancoe hasn't exactly been the same player he teased the Vikings that he was with his seven touchdown 2008 season and his 11 touchdown 2009 campaign, so probably just as well that he's no longer around. Instead, the void is filled with John Carlson, who had 31 receptions in 2010 with one touchdown and missed the entire 2011 season. Kyle Rudolph is okay, but while he showed some flashes, he really needs to get a few more looks from whatever gets trotted out at quarterback this season.
Scheffler was once-upon-a-time one of Jay Cutler's targets in Denver, so why haven't the Bears flipped a third-rounder to Detroit for him yet?! Sarcasm aside, this is a very solid unit, behind Pettigrew's 83 receptions and Scheffler's 6 touchdowns on 26 catches. Scheffler had the second-highest yards-per-reception in the offensive unit of any player with at least 10 receptions. Heller suffices as a blocker, but with two receiving threats like this, he doesn't calculate into the offense much.
Quarless is currently down with ACL/MCL surgery, which means he probably won't be back until midseason. But the unit overall is really not much beyond Jermichael Finley. Finley had 55 receptions with 8 touchdowns last year and a solid 13.9 yards-per-reception, which is pretty good for a tight end. Crabtree caught a touchdown, but he's more a blocker than he is a receiver, and DJ Williams should be looking to get a few more catches and take on a bigger role behind Finley.
As far as overall unit rankings are concerned, again, I'll have to go in pretty much the same order. The Vikings get the number four slot based on relying on Rudolph, high draft pick though he was, and losing Shiancoe to replace him and Kleinsasser with a guy who didn't play in 2010. The Bears unfortunately go at three, because we think the tight ends will get more use, but we don't know how they'll actually perform. Davis is a big target and catches solid numbers of touchdowns, but is he capable of a greater receiving load, or is he just a red zone target?
So again, I think it's between the dual threat of Pettigrew and Scheffler versus Finley, but this time, the Packers take the number two. Finley doesn't make or break the Packers offense, but he provides an excellent weapon - can DJ Williams fill in even half of Finley's role?
That pretty much leaves the Lions with the top tight end set - two very good receiving threats to go with a decent blocker in Heller.
What's your outlook on the Bears' tight ends compared to the rest of the division?