Few positions have evolved more dramatically in the NFL than tight end, where sleek pass-catchers with the dimensions of oversized wide receivers have replaced what were once players that looked more like hungry offensive tackles. Hard-nosed blocking has taken a backseat to speed and hands. The position’s elite players possess both.
The Packers have the precursors of the modern age at the position, all-time greats like Ron Kramer and Marv Fleming. The club also has had more recent targets such as Paul Coffman and Mark Chmura make multiple Pro-Bowl trips because of their versatility. Here’s a look at the top 10 tight ends to wear the green and gold.
10. Jackie Harris (1990-93)—After being selected in the fourth round, Harris started 32 of 60 games and was a consistent contributor during his four-year stint with the Packers, so he’ll sneak in at 10th. His best years were his final two, when he opened 28 contests and had 97 grabs. Harris ranks eighth all-time among Packers tight ends in yardage with 1,620.
9. Keith Jackson (1995-96)—Though he only appeared in 25 regular-season games with the Packers, Jackson made an impact and is considered one of the NFL’s top tight ends of the last two decades for his full body of work. In 1996, his final NFL season, he had 40 grabs for 505 yards and 10 TDs for Green Bay. After joining the club at midseason in 1995, the three-time All-Pro was clutch in the playoffs, with 223 yards on 12 catches and a pair of TDs. The memories of his performances shine, but he suffers on the longevity scale.
8. Rich McGeorge (1970-78)—Selected 16th overall, the lanky McGeorge appeared in 116 games. He was steady on teams that often struggled, serving as a complementary target and picking up first downs, with McGeorge’s best stretch coming from 1974-76. He ranks 10th among tight ends with 175 catches for 2,370 yards and 13 TDs.
7. Donald Lee (2005-2009)—Don’t sleep on Lee when it comes to all-timers in the rich history of Green Bay tight ends. He has been a workhorse, playing in 92 games. From 2007-09, he became the first tight end since Coffman to post three-straight seasons with over 35 grabs. It hasn’t always been pretty but, in the classic tight end way, he has kept a low profile while moving the chains, scoring 17 TDs and posting 12 catches over 25 yards.
6. Ed West (1984-94)—Never drafted, West was a solid though unspectacular player and when he departed ranked second (then) among tight ends in club history with 25 TD grabs. He deserves points for always answering the call: West played in 167 games from 1984-94 with 104 starts and totaled 202 catches for 2,321 yards. He also has the top nickname among all Packers tight ends, “Tool Box.”
5. Bubba Franks (2000-2007)—Franks arrived with huge expectations after being selected 14th overall, and he only recorded over 50 catches once. A sturdy and tall target at 6-6, he was dangerous around the end zone, scoring 31 TDs to rank second behind Coffman in team record books at the position. His 27 TD grabs from 2001-04 only trailed Tony Gonzales. Injuries eventually led to Franks’ undoing in Green Bay, after three trips to the Pro Bowl.
4. Mark Chmura (1993-99)—Also a three-time Pro-Bowl selection, Chmura was among the NFL’s best for a stretch during the mid-1990s, with good hands, powerful blocking and toughness. Fans loved the way he sought contact and punished defensive backs, and during 1995-96 Chmura and Jackson formed the league’s best duo at tight end. He played 90 games and scored 17 TDs, and his 188 catches rank fourth in team history at his position.
3. Paul Coffman (1978-85)—Undrafted and undersized, Coffman became one of the Packers’ chief offensive threats throughout the early 1980s and remains the club’s most productive tight end, statistically. As Lynn Dickey’s safety valve, Coffman skillfully worked the inside while James Lofton and John Jefferson streaked down the sidelines. Coffman was selected to three Pro Bowls and caught 39 TD passes.
2. Marv Fleming (1963-69)—A tight end that played before the position became a viable option in the passing game – the Packers also had wide receivers Carroll Dale, Boyd Dowler and Max McGee – but at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, even today Fleming would have scouts filling their notebooks with superlatives. He was a rugged blocker and an able receiver who scored 12 touchdowns. For the brief time their careers intermingled, Fleming and Ron Kramer were the best combination in the NFL. Even on the best teams, Fleming always had a roster spot, and he had a charmed career in terms of championships. He was the first player to appear in five Super Bowls: I and II with the Packers, and Super Bowls VI, VII and VIII with the Dolphins, including the 1972 undefeated team. Fleming also won the 1965 NFL title with Green Bay.
1. Ron Kramer (1957, 1959-64)—Selected fourth overall, Kramer was a trailblazer, but he didn’t get going until after a year in the Air Force and Vince Lombardi’s arrival prior to the 1959 season. From 1960-64, Kramer hauled in 142 passes for 2,257 yards and rumbled for 15 TDs. Kramer is defined by his contribution to Lombardi’s power sweep, in which Kramer lined up outside the tackle and nailed linebackers, creating either the inside or outside crease the famous coach drilled for endlessly in practice. Despite his devastating blocking, Kramer also had the speed to get loose in the secondary, and he was a quick option for Bart Starr on a blitz. He averaged 16 yards per reception in the four seasons before the Michigan native was traded to Detroit by request in 1965.
Ricky Zeller is a contributing writer for packers.com. He has covered the NFL for several publications.