Tight End Took Roller Coaster Path to NFL

Rodgers (Stephen Dunn - Getty)

The Packers' second of two third-round picks in the draft went from tight end to receiver back to tight end to realize his NFL dream. On Friday night, he immediately caught the attention of his new quarterback, thanks to having a surname and school in common.

With the last name Rodgers out of the University of California, the Green Bay Packers can't go wrong with their most recent draft pick, right?

To close out their selections late Friday night, the Packers selected 6-foot-4 tight end Richard Rodgers II of the Pac 12 Conference's Golden Bears with a third-round compensatory pick at No. 98 overall.

"Another Rodgers from Cal in Green Bay, sweet," tweeted Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers shortly after the selection.

With their newest Rodgers, the Packers added much-needed depth to their roster at the tight end position. Or did they?

Rodgers, a junior entry into the draft, actually played wide receiver for the Golden Bears in 2013 during a transition year from former head coach Jeff Tedford to new coach Sonny Dykes.

"I was basically playing inside receiver last year with the new coaching staff," said Rodgers. "I don't know, I just, I had to get my weight down – I played at 245 at inside receiver, so I just did what I could to help the team basically at that position. Obviously, that's not a position that I played in the past, so I just did what I could to help the team."

Unlike Tedford's pro-style system, Dykes' offensive approach operates without what many would call a traditional, in-line tight end. The season prior, Rodgers, at 278 pounds, played that position under Tedford. The new coaching staff told Rodgers he had to lose weight, however, if he wanted to play in their system. So, he did just that.

In the process, Rodgers became an NFL prospect. In one season, his catch total rose from 20 to 39. His yards per catch jumped from 14.4 to 15.6. He spent most of his time as a receiver in the slot and even took snaps in the backfield. He was primarily a route runner, according to Packers tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot.

"What he really excels at is that he has very good hands, soft hands at catching the football, and he's a very detailed route runner," said Fontenot. "He's a smart kid. And sitting down and talking to him he's very understanding of schemes and concepts and does a very good job with the game mentally."

Rodgers comes to the Packers from a well-travelled football family. His father, Richard Sr., is the special teams coordinator for the Carolina Panthers. He also coached at five other colleges. Before that, he played pro football in the CFL and the Arena Football League. He also played collegiately at Cal, where he was an integral part of "The Play" in the 1982 Stanford-Cal game, which featured five laterals (Richard Sr.'s being the last) and a band on the field.

Rodgers' new family will give him a great opportunity. With Rodgers back to what he said is his optimal playing weight (260 to 265 pounds), the Packers think he can fit into their system at tight end, even after a season at wide receiver and even with a 40-yard time of 4.87.

"Richard's a very, very good pass catcher," said Packers general manager Ted Thompson. "He's a really good athlete. … We think he's going to be a good addition to our group of tight ends."

"He's got ability. He can block," added Fontenot regarding Rodgers' video as a more traditional tight end in 2012. "You'll have to do some searching to find some film of him blocking but he's capable of blocking. I think once he gets here and gets a chance to compete – as you guys know, we ask our tight ends to do everything – I think he's perfectly capable of competing for that."

With Jermichael Finley remaining an unrestricted free agent and facing an uncertain future, the Packers have five other tight ends on their roster with a combined 17 career starts. (Andrew Quarless has 15 of them in four seasons.)

With the addition of receiver Davante Adams of Fresno State in the second round, and now another tight end, the "other" Rodgers has two new weapons at his disposal.

"I think it's going to be a great opportunity," said Rodgers II of playing with his new quarterback. "I have not met Aaron Rodgers. I know one of my teammates Jordan Rigsbee is from Chico, so I hear a lot of stories about Aaron and the time they spent together, so I'm sure it will be a great time and I just look forward to getting to learn a lot of things from Aaron."


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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com

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