With their third-round selection in the 2019 NFL draft, No. 75 overall, the Green Bay Packers selected Jace Sternberger, tight end, Texas A&M.
The selection addressed something the Packers absolutely had to do, drafting a tight end in the first two days of the draft. Jon-Eric Sullivan, the Packers' co-director of player personnel, said the team prioritized tight end, but in Sternberger also felt it was able to stick to its best-player-available mantra.
“We always try to take the best player available,” Sullivan said. “That’s just philosophically what we believe in, and he was the best player available for us at this time. It worked out, and it was a position we valued. We needed to get a young guy in the mix, and we did. So we’re excited about him.”
Sternberger will join a tight end group that includes veterans Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis, giving him a chance to learn from two of the better players at his position in the game over the past decade. It’s an ideal situation for a young, up-and-coming player to grow.
“I don’t think there’s pressure for him to come in here and be Superman,” Sullivan said. “I think we’ll throw him in that room and let him grow and mature as time marches on.”
The Packers had no choice: They had to draft a tight end in the first three rounds. By waiting to the 75th overall pick, they appear to have gotten solid value. Sternberger profiles as a classic, in-line tight end, where he said he lined up about 70 percent of snaps last season at Texas A&M. Sullivan said his current value is as a pass catcher, but the scouting department believes he’ll develop into a complete tight end.
Sternberger said he fully expects to be a well-rounded player, not just a one-dimensional pass catcher. Asked if his bigger transition at the next level will be as a pass catcher or run blocker, Sternberger didn’t hesitate.
“One hundred percent the blocking,” he said. “It’s something that as a college player, you’re playing in the NFL so you better get your stuff ready to block at the next level. Running routes, anybody can do that. I’m going to try to be the best route runner I can, but at the end of the day, it’s all about blocking, and I’m going to do what the Green Bay Packers picked me for.
“So I’m taking blocking head on. I can be a pass-catching tight end as well as blocking tight end.”
It’s difficult for tight ends to make an early impact in the NFL, but Sternberger likely won’t be asked to. The Packers can afford to be patient with him, allowing him to develop behind veterans. Eventually, they expect he’ll be a longtime starter.
40-yard dash: 4.75 (Brian Gutekunst said the Packers’ internal time on Sternberger was 4.66.)
Bench reps: 17
Averaged 17.3 yards per catch on 48 receptions last season at Texas A&M.
· 2018 first-team All-American by Associated Press.
· 2018 first-team all-SEC by Associated Press.
· 2018 John Mackey Award semifinalist (nation’s top tight end).
· Caught 48 passes for 832 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2018.
General manager's take
Brian Gutekunst met the media late Friday night to discuss drafting Jace Sternberger. Here are some highlights:
On how Jace Sternberger fits into Matt LaFleur’s offense:
“We kind of think Jace kinda fits that tight end that can be a matchup problem. He’s a tough cover down the field, he can create separation from ‘backers and safeties, can stretch the seam. Again, he had one year at Texas A&M. There’s a lot of development there, but we’re excited to get him in with the group that we’ve got and see what he can do.”
On whether drafting a tight end early was a priority:
“He was the best player on our board, so that’s the way we went. We thought it would be nice to add a tight end, we thought it was a pretty decent class this year, but it wasn’t something that I felt like we had to add in this draft. I like the guys we’ve got in the room already. I think Jace will be a nice addition to that. But I didn’t feel like we had to add one in this draft.”
Jace Sternberger addressed the media via conference call. Here are some highlights:
On opportunity to learn from Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis as a rookie:
“I mean, what better opportunity can you have? As a young tight end, everybody’s mindset is you want to be the next big thing, and what better way to do it than with Marcedes and then Jimmy Graham — two guys who’ve had an amazing career in the NFL, and it’s just like, I’m just trying to get in and learn as much as I can from them. They’ve been playing for X amount of years, and someday I’ll wish I can be. So anything, any advice they give me, or anything they say to me, even if they’re being hard on me, I’m going to take it in. They obviously know what they’re doing. So, I mean, what two great role models to have.”
On whether he’s more comfortable lining up as classic in-line tight end of in slot:
“I only lined up in the slot maybe 10 percent. You can go look up the numbers for me, but I was in-line 70 percent of the time at A&M, which people don’t really get because all you hear is Jace is a pass-catching tight end, but you can watch the film, I was in the trenches a lot of my time. I wasn’t blocking all the time. I was running a lot of routes. But the majority I had my hand in the ground, which is how coach (Jimbo) Fisher is.”
The Packers value Sternberger as a “matchup problem” capable of moving across the formation, including lining up as a traditional in-line tight end. They like his pass-catching ability, especially his combination of size and speed. They surely also like that he flourished in the pro-style offense coached by Jimbo Fisher last season at Texas A&M. The Packers could use Sternberger as a move tight end initially and let him naturally develop into more of a well-rounded role. Eventually, they see him being a big-time playmaker, something the Packers have desperately sought for years from the tight end position.
"Despite his experience in-line and willingness to block in Jimbo Fisher's offense, he has neither the size nor strength to handle those duties as a pro. Sternberger is athletic with above-average ball skills, catch radius and route breaks that help him undercover on the second and third level. His paychecks will be tied to his pass-catching so he'll need to play stronger through route contact and with better focus when contested. He has eventual starter potential as a move tight end who can function as a big WR3/4 from the slot." - Lance Zierlein, NFL.com
“Sternberger (6'4/251) was a breakout player in 2018, averaging 10.7 yards per target and scoring 10 touchdowns in his first season at Texas A&M. An NFL tight ends coach recently said that the former JUCO transfer can "get you 50 to 60 catches a year" if he continues to develop physically. There are some physical limitations, but Sternberger was productive enough to warrant a Day 2 selection, just as Edholm projects.” Eric Edholm, Yahoo Sports