NFL Nation: Troy Niklas

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson participated in a full practice on Thursday, basically assuring he’ll play Sunday in Dallas.

Peterson
Peterson
He was limited Wednesday, a day after passing the concussion protocol.

Safety Tony Jefferson was upgraded to limited after not practicing Wednesday because of a concussion suffered in Sunday’s win over Philadelphia but not diagnosed until Monday morning. During the open portion of practice, Jefferson worked on the kickoff coverage unit. He cleared the concussion protocol later Thursday.

Linebacker Kenny Demens (knee) was also upgraded from limited to full.

Running back Andre Ellington (foot) was limited, as was tight end Troy Niklas (ankle).

Defensive end Calais Campbell (knee), wide receiver Michael Floyd (knee) and safety Rashad Johnson (knee) were all full.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The requirements for Troy Niklas' return to the field are quite simple these days.

If he can push a sled, he can play.

“He’s a damn tackle, he ain’t no wide receiver,” Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “He don’t need to be worrying about making cuts, so he better have his ass back on the practice field next week.”

Niklas, Arizona’s rookie tight end, heard the same message in the training room Friday, when he missed his ninth straight practice with a sprained ankle suffered in Denver in Week 5. He’ll miss his third straight game Sunday when Arizona hosts Philadelphia.

This is just the lastest injury to plague Niklas’ six months in the NFL. He came into the league recovering from hernia surgery and then broke a bone in his right hand in June. And now the ankle.

“Definitely been a pretty unreal series of events,” Niklas said. “Unfortunate, I guess. I’m trying to stay positive and heal up as fast as I can so I can get back out there.”

But staying positive after three setbacks since he was drafted is much easier said than done.

“It’s pretty tough,” Niklas said. “Just being injured is one of the worst things about playing and for me, watching the team go and win games, it’s awesome seeing them win and having success. It just sucks that you’re not part of it.”

Every day he misses is another day Niklas feels like he’s falling behind. But his ankle is close enough where a return next week is a good possibility.

As Arians said, as long as Niklas can push a sled, he can return to practice.

“I just got to be out there and be able to do my job,” Niklas said. “As I heal up I’ll just be able to do more and more.

“I think just getting back out there is the biggest thing regardless of what I’m doing.”
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Darnell Dockett's mocking of Oakland's winless 0-6 record late in Sunday's game went viral quickly after the Cardinals won, 24-13.

But Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arian wasn't a fan of Dockett's antics.

"It won't happen again," Arians said Monday afternoon.

Dockett told ESPN.com he hasn't been fined by the team for the whiteboard message.

Here's a photo of the sign taken by a Cardinals fan in Oakland:



Recapping the rest of Arians' Monday news conference:
  • Arians said there's no structural damage to Andre Ellington's ribs. The running back is "just sore."
  • There's a possibility defensive end Calais Campbell could return to practice this week. He's been out with a strained MCL since suffering the injury against Denver in Week 5.
  • Arians said safety Rashad Johnson is being evaluated for a patellar tendon but it could be severe tendinitis.
  • Rookie tight end Troy Niklas is doubtful for the Eagles game, Arians said.
  • Second-year running back Stepfan Taylor lost weight to get quicker but lost some power at the same time, Arians said.
  • Arians explained how the Cardinals could be 31st about the pass but No. 1 against the run: "They can't run. They're going to throw." When he was asked if Arizona could win with the second-worst pass defense, Arians said "We have so far."
  • Arians said he won't push Ellington to practice on Wednesdays even though it's hindering the timing in Arizona's pass game: "He can't if he can't hardly walk."
  • Arians on the fake punts the St. Louis Rams pulled off against Seattle: "That was some big cojones as Good (offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin) would say."
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Quarterback Carson Palmer was ruled inactive for Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers.

It was a largely expected decision by the Cardinals, but on Friday coach Bruce Arians left the door open for Palmer to back up Drew Stanton if his right shoulder was feeling better. Third-string quarterback Logan Thomas will back up Stanton.

Defensive tackle Frostee Rucker is active after he and tight end Rob Housler worked out with head trainer Tom Reed during warm-ups. Housler was ruled inactive because of a hip injury. He didn’t practice Thursday or Friday. Rookie Troy Niklas will get his first NFL start in Housler’s place.

Also inactive was nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu, who played just four snaps last week, and recently signed linebacker Victor Butler. He was signed by the Cards on Tuesday. Rookie inside linebacker Glenn Carson was also inactive.

As Arians announced Friday, punter Dave Zastudil and linebacker Alex Okafor were inactive, as well.
First it was the recovery from hernia surgery.

Now it’s a broken hand.

Troy Niklas’ first offseason as a professional football player isn’t going so smooth. The Arizona Cardinals’ second-round pick in May’s draft has been on the field for just about a week of practice since reporting to the team in early May. While he’s been studying his playbook and watching film, learning from the sideline simply isn’t the same.

And it’s already causing the tight end to fall behind.

“I’d definitely be further along with the offense had I been out there practicing, and that’s what sucks,” Niklas said. “I’m just getting my head in my playbook trying to learn all the conceptual stuff.”

He's part of a tight end room that includes Jake Ballard, John Carlson and Rob Housler, all players with at least a few years of experience who'll be able to help guide Niklas once he's back on the field.

Niklas called his broken hand last week “one of those freak things.” He got it caught in another player’s jersey during the final week of organized team activities. After going his entire career without having surgery, Niklas has had two in the past six months.

The frustration of not being on the field for much-needed reps is starting to pile up. On Tuesday, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Niklas will be ready for training camp.

Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer said it’ll be important for Niklas to increase his workload once the Cardinals begin camp in late July.

“Anytime you miss time and you’re a young guy, and you can’t get on the field, obviously it’s not ideal but that’s the game,” Palmer said. “That’s this league and that’s any professional league. Being a young guy, you need reps. You got to kinda put it in overdrive once training camp gets here to catch up.”

Niklas has just one more practice to watch from the sidelines before the Cardinals go on a summer break. Palmer said he’ll catch up to speed with Niklas once he’s healthy at camp.

But, regardless, it hasn’t been easy for the Notre Dame product to deal with “just another bump in the road.”

“It’s not fun,” he said. “Could you imagine just watching someone interview people all day and not be able to do your job?”
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Now that Bruce Arians has his tight ends, the Arizona Cardinals' offense can start to take shape.

The final piece of the puzzle was added in the second round of last weekend’s NFL draft when the Cardinals picked tight end Troy Niklas out of Notre Dame. With three new tight ends since the middle of last season, Arians can begin running his scheme like it was designed.

[+] EnlargeTroy Niklas
AP Photo/Michael ConroyNotre Dame tight end Troy Niklas' blocking ability adds versatility to the Cardinals' offense.
“Totally upgraded for what we wanted to do,” Arians said. “We feel like the position is really, really solid right now. Jake (Ballard) came in and did a nice job at the end of last year. Robbie (Housler) is a different style guy, so he gives you some things in the passing game. Then, obviously, (John) Carlson comes in and give us an all-around type of guy also.

“Obviously, we like tight ends. We use a lot of them. This is a great fit for us.”

Niklas, who was introduced to the Arizona media on Tuesday, gives the Cardinals more options off the line of scrimmage. He can block and catch, using his 6-foot-6 frame to shield linebackers and safeties while using his flexibility to catch low passes. But where Niklas will impact the Cards’ offense the most is staying home on the line of scrimmage.

With him on the field, Arians doesn’t have to use an extra tackle during run plays.

“When you put a tackle in like most teams, they struggle at the tight end spot versus defensive ends, versus 4-3 teams,” Arians said. “You lose a lot because the safety is down there, two yards from the line of scrimmage, because you know he’s not going off our pass.

“This is a big, strong guy who can go out for passes and also block the line of scrimmage. So, we are very versatile now.”

And the Cardinals are in luck. The former outside linebacker, who said he let his pads do the talking in college, enjoys blocking.

“I like physical contact,” Niklas said. “I really don’t mind getting my head stuck in there.”

Niklas was given the Cardinals' playbook Monday and is already aware of how complex Arians’ offense will be. He found a few intricacies that will take a “little bit” to understand. Under the tutelage of tight end coaches Rick Christophel and Steve Heiden, Niklas said his initial role will be as an edge-setter on the run, but will likely evolve into the passing game. During his draft-day conference call, Niklas said he’s “pretty good” up the seam, and is as comfortable running a wheel route as he is in a two-yard out.

That versatility will give quarterback Carson Palmer more options out of the base offense, especially when teams are keying on Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Andre Ellington and Ted Ginn.

Niklas is cut from the same tight end mold that has tormented the Cardinals’ defense recently. He’s 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds with a basketball body.

“In the NFL, the tight ends are used so much more than in the past,” Niklas said. “It’s a pretty vital part of the offense now. It’s just hard for linebackers to cover us because of our speed, and it’s hard for safeties to cover us because of our size. It creates a lot of mismatches.”

Playing only two seasons as a true tight end, Niklas still has a lot to learn. But he won’t spend much time looking back at his days at Notre Dame.

His sights are focused on being molded by Arians, Christophel and Heiden to fit the Cardinals’ system.

“They definitely say that the blocking or well-rounded tight end is a bit of a dying breed,” Niklas said. “So, hopefully we can spark a little bit of a revival in that.”
TEMPE, Ariz. -- For months, the message from Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim was the same.

Arizona would use its 120-man draft board to pick the best player available, regardless of need. And if you asked Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, the team didn't have any glaring needs. But with three rounds of the NFL draft in the books, the Cardinals have four new players and each addressed a specific need.

[+] EnlargeTroy Niklas
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)Troy Niklas is expected to solidify a Cardinals tight end corp that is the foundation of Bruce Arians' offense.
Safety. Tight end. Pass rusher. Speed receiver.

Coincidence? I think not. And Keim all but said it was a smokescreen.

"I told you we were the only two you can believe," Keim said with a smile.

To which Arians followed: "Truth kills, baby."

But this was a draft in which Arizona could get away with picking for need. The work done over the last 16 months has put the Cardinals in a position in which they were a few specific positions away from turning a long-term corner. They addressed a handful -- left tackle, third receiver, kick returner and cornerback -- in free agency. The rest, as Keim would prefer it, would be found through the draft.

"I think that's the emphasis you put into building that board," Keim said. "We saw best player available but there is an emphasis on who impacts our football team the most. We are never going to leave a good player on the board to the side, but we do want to find guys who are going to impact us the most."

Sometimes who that is and who's atop their boards may not match up.

Arizona's first-round pick, Deone Bucannon, plugged a hole at strong safety. Second-round pick Troy Niklas solidified a tight end corps that is the foundation of Arians' offense. The Cardinals used their first third-round pick on Kareem Martin, who can provide relief on the defensive line while evolving into a pass rusher, and their second third-round pick on John Brown, a small-school speedster who can take the top off defenses and return kicks.

Of the group, Bucannon and Niklas probably were among the best players available when Arizona went on the clock. But Martin was a pick with the future in mind. And Arizona was high on Brown from the start.

"You have to almost look at it with a three-year view and understand that when we are talking about certain positions, they may not be the biggest need right now but in 2015, that may be our biggest need," Keim said a week before the draft. "So, if you can continue to have rollover and develop players, young players that can replace those guys when either their contracts are up or players move on, I think that's the way that ultimately you'd love for it to go."

That didn't seem committed to best-player available, rather than to picking for need. By late Friday, Keim said, the Cards' board was starting to look a little picked over.

"There are still quite a few players that we covet that are left," Keim said. "Rounds four, five and six should be fruitful for us. It has been picked pretty good."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Armed with three selections on Day 2 of the NFL draft, the Green Bay Packers are spending the day plotting their strategy for picks Nos. 53 (second round), 85 and 98 (both in the third round).

After taking Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round -- a move that ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. called one of the winners of Day 1 Insider -- the Packers reset their draft board to reflect the best players still available.

If their grades on the players still available at 53, 85 and 98 fit their needs, here is who they might consider:

Linebackers: Notes: Borland, Brown and Skov would all project as inside linebackers in the Packers’ 3-4 scheme. Kiper Jr. ranked Van Noy, an outside linebacker, as the fifth-best player still available Insider, and Borland as the 12th. In his second-round mock draft Insider, Kiper Jr. predicted Borland to the Packers at No. 53. He wrote: “This would be a steal. He's not a physical freak, but Borland is a football freak. Slots in next to A.J. Hawk.”

Tight ends:
Amaro
Notes: If the Packers are going to get an impact tight end, they probably need to do it on Friday, because the drop off after these four is significant. Seferian-Jenkins and Amaro are receiving tight ends in the mold of Jermichael Finley, while Fiedorowicz and Niklas are more traditional players. Scouts Inc. has the Packers taking Amaro in its updated second-round mock draft Insider.

Receivers:
Lee
Notes: Lee could be one of the first players off the board when the draft resumes, so it's unlikely the Packers would be in position to take him unless they traded up. Keep in mind that they cannot trade No. 98 because it is a compensatory pick at the end of the third round. Lee and Landry are smaller receivers in the 5-foot-11 range, and Ellington is even smaller at 5-9 3/8. The Packers might want to go bigger at this spot, because they already have a dynamic slot receiver in Randall Cobb.

Centers:
Notes: The Packers are high on second-year pro JC Tretter as their possible next starting center, but the former collegiate tackle has yet to play an NFL snap at any position. There is a good chance all of these centers will be available at No. 53, with Martin and Richburg as likely late second-round picks who also could slip into the third round.

Analyzing McShay mock 4.0: Packers 

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The Green Bay Packers' greatest needs would seemingly be on the defensive side of the ball.

Even with the addition of pass-rusher Julius Peppers, they likely need to upgrade a few more spots in order improve on its 25th overall ranking last season. With that in mind, it might come as a surprise that in ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay's latest mock draft , version 4.0, he has the Packers taking offensive players not only with their first-round pick but also with their second.

The Buffalo Bills are hosting three more players on pre-draft visits Wednesday, the team announced.

A pair of Ohio State prospects -- linebacker Ryan Shazier and cornerback Bradley Roby -- as well as Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk are all visiting the Bills' facility.

The Bills hosted Notre Dame tight end Troy Niklas and Indiana receiver Cody Latimer on Tuesday, which were the first two visits that the team has disclosed. Each NFL team is allowed 30 visits prior to May's draft.

Shazier had an unofficial 40-yard dash of 4.36 seconds at his pro day, which would have ranked among the top performances at any position at the NFL combine. Shazier did not run at the combine because of an injury.

The Bills signed a pair of free-agent linebackers, Brandon Spikes and Keith Rivers, last month, but both have questions as pass defenders. Shazier, who is projected to be an early-round pick, would be a good fit next to Kiko Alonso in sub packages.

Roby is also expected to be an early-round pick. His role would be less certain, at least initially, as the Bills have Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin, and Corey Graham atop their depth chart at cornerback.

Seastrunk is projected to be a mid-round pick. That could be the sweet spot for the Bills to draft a running back. C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson are both scheduled to become free agents after this season, which creates a long-term need at the position.
Troy NiklasAP Photo/Michael ConroyTroy Niklas, who worked out at the combine on Saturday, says he's a "prototypical tight end."
INDIANAPOLIS -- Troy Niklas walked off Podium C in Indianapolis on Thursday afternoon, answered one more question and laughed at the proposition of it.

Unlike a lot of tight ends in this NFL draft, the former Notre Dame tight end is a rarity at the NFL combine as opposed to a decade ago, when more players at his position were like him.

Or, as he put it, “last of a dying breed.”

The breed being the tight ends who can both block and catch passes, whose skills aren’t limited to one or the other as an obvious strength/weakness comparison but rather a dual-threat tight end who can do a little bit of everything.

Niklas understands this, too.

“I guess in some senses, I think I’m more of a prototypical tight end,” Niklas said. “One that can really block and one that you can also use in the pass game and be pretty effective.”

Teams want guys who can do both of those things, and the value of players who can do that is high, in part, because of the way tight ends are being coached now versus a decade ago.

“You don’t see many guys who are good at doing both,” Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew said. “But there are guys who can block coming out of college this year and there will be guys in free agency that can block.”

And in many offenses, those players become premium options. In the draft, Niklas is one, as are Austin Seferian-Jenkins from Washington and C.J. Fiedorowicz from Iowa and is a position of potential need for Detroit.

But the position has evolved dramatically over the past 10 years, turning from a definitive spot on the line next to a tackle to potentially lining up anywhere from out wide to the slot, backfield and in the traditional spot next to a tackle on the line.

And a lot of it has to do with the transition of college offense from drop-back passing run-first pro-style and west coast offenses to shotgun, spread, zone-read ones.

The proliferation of spread offenses has often eliminated the use for a traditional tight end, instead turning the position into a mismatched bigger receiver against a linebacker or safety and becoming a headache for more than opponents but those looking to evaluate them as well.

“You don’t see a lot of in-the-line tight ends, true blocking tight ends very often anymore, and when you do, it’s different,” Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “But there are still some guys that utilize the tight end position in college and those are the guys that you get a good chance to look at.

“But the ones (who don’t), you would have to see how he would fit because he hasn't been asked to do it. No fault of theirs, but it’s a tough position to evaluate right now because of all the spread offenses.”

That is one of the tougher things for coaches, general managers and scouts to decipher over the next few months. Depending on a team’s offensive system, finding a tight end who can both block and pass could be an issue.

Blocking on the line of scrimmage is becoming more of a lost ability for tight ends, who see players like Jimmy Graham and how he is used and end up being utilized in similar ways.

“I think right now people are looking for tight ends to catch more balls,” Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro said. “Than they are to make more blocks.”

So if a team wants a tight end who can line up on the line of scrimmage to be able to run block as well as run routes, it has become somewhat more of a guessing game as to when and if some of the spread offense tight ends will adapt.

“A couple of years ago we were looking at a prospect and we and it took us two years (of film) to see five snaps where he lined up in a two point stance,” said Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith. “You have to do some projecting when you’re looking at the tight ends. But I do think it’s an evolving position. It’s changing.

“Offensive coordinators are being very creative in how they align the tight end. He can line up in that fullback position. He can line up as an H back. He can line up in the No. 1 wide receiver position as well.”

How a team views the tight end in their system will often define what type of tight end they are looking for -- more of a specialist or a guy who can do a little bit of everything, just like the modern tight end has turned out to be.
INDIANAPOLIS -- One by one, the top tight ends in this year’s NFL draft rolled through Lucas Oil Stadium as part of Thursday’s interview session at the scouting combine.

There was Eric Ebron of North Carolina, Jace Amaro of Texas Tech, Austin Seferian-Jenkins of Washington, Troy Niklas of Notre Dame, C.J. Fiedorowicz of Iowa and on and on.

Most, if not all, were asked which NFL tight end they admired, emulated or resembled.

For some, like Ebron, it was San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis.

[+] EnlargeEric Ebron
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsCarolina likely would have to trade up in the first round of the NFL draft to have a shot at selecting Eric Ebron.
For others, like Amaro and Fiedorowicz, it was the New England Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski.

For Seferian-Jenkins, it was the New Orleans Saints’ Jimmy Graham and the Denver Broncos’ Julius Thomas, who like him had a background in basketball.

Not one of them, however, mentioned Jermichael Finley.

Yet if the Green Bay Packers don’t bring back their starting tight end, which is a likely course of action given his neck injury and his expiring contract, one of those players could become the next Finley.

Most of the top tight end prospects said Thursday that they had either visited with the Packers or planned to talk with team representatives this week at the combine.

So too will Blake Baratz, the agent who represents Finley, but the Packers may have already decided that Finley’s neck fusion surgery was too much of a risk to bring him back. If that’s their plan, then there are plenty of viable options in this draft, which features playmaking tight ends of all sizes.

It starts with the 6-foot-4, 250-pound Ebron, who likely will be the first tight end taken in the draft and could be gone before the Packers pick at No. 21.

“I’m very fast; I’m very different,” said Ebron, who along with the other tight ends will do their on-field testing this weekend. “I play the tight end role like no one else.”

In some ways, he plays it like Finley, whose physical presence is similar to Ebron’s.

Amaro (6-5, 255) is as much receiver as he is tight end. Most of last season, when he caught 106 passes for 1,352 yards (the NCAA record for a tight end), he played standing up away from the line of scrimmage.

“That’s why I’m so unique,” Amaro said. “It’s kind of a revolution into the game and how the tight ends are coming in across the board. I like to see myself as both a tight end and a receiver.”

But can he block?

That’s not an issue with Fiedorowicz (6-5, 265), who was more of a blocking tight end in Iowa’s run-heavy offense.

“A lot of tight ends in the NFL are either blocking tight ends or receiving tight ends,” Fiedorowicz said. “I like watching Rob Gronkowski. He can dominate both the line of scrimmage and down the field.”

Seferian-Jenkins (6-5, 262) said he was asked to do both last season at Washington, where he played basketball as a freshman.

“At the tight end position, you’ve got a lot of great players [in this draft],” he said. “But what I think I do is if you watched me play, I split out and played receiver. I’ve done fullback. I’ve played in line. I think I’ve showed I’m very capable of being a playmaker down the seam and run regular routes as a receiver, and I’ve shown the capability of being a blocker.”

Niklas (6-6 , 270) might be the biggest bruiser of this bunch. He began his college career as an outside linebacker.

“I can block, and I enjoy blocking,” Niklas said. “I think it’s something I can use to my advantage.”

Further down the tight end pecking order is Jacob Pedersen of Wisconsin. He grew up just north of Green Bay in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He’s a late-round prospect who would love the chance to be the Packers' next tight end.

“Growing up 45 minutes away from Green Bay, obviously it’d be a childhood dream to play for your home team,” said Pedersen, one of six Badgers invited to the combine. “But I’m just hoping to get drafted by a team. Whoever takes me, they’re going to get my best effort.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- Brandon Pettigrew presents a conundrum for the Detroit Lions.

On one side, Pettigrew is one of the tight ends in the NFL who can run routes and also line up on the offensive line and block oncoming defenders. But with what Detroit might run in the future, with the base being the New Orleans Saints offense that used Jimmy Graham in the slot often, the question remains of how Pettigrew might fit with the potentially-new-look Lions.

Pettigrew
Pettigrew
“Pettigrew, he’s a talented guy. Big, talented,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said during the NFL combine Thursday. “Can block you at the line of scrimmage but also can catch the ball as well. He’s a talented guy.

“Across the board, I think you find guys that have certain skill sets. He’s got a real fine skill set and [I] obviously think you’ve been able to see that through the years.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean Detroit will bring him back, though. Caldwell wouldn’t give an indication one way or another whether he would have the Lions try to retain the Oklahoma State product, who has caught 284 passes for 2,828 yards and 16 touchdowns in his first five years in Detroit.

If the Lions are unable to retain him, the team would have two tight ends returning to the team -- Joseph Fauria and Michael Williams. Williams spent last season on injured reserve with a broken hand and Fauria played mostly in passing and red zone situations.

When asked if he intended to try to re-sign Pettigrew, however, Caldwell became very vague.

“We’ve got to look at every option and that’s one of the things,” Caldwell said. “We’ve got to have contingencies for every single thing and that’s one of the things. We have to have contingencies for every single thing so we look at it on both sides of it and see how things work out.”

The Lions may also look to fill tight end needs through the draft. The tight end pool is a deep crop, led by North Carolina’s Eric Ebron, Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro and Notre Dame’s Troy Niklas. Niklas told ESPN.com on Thursday he was scheduled to speak with the team at some point during the combine.
INDIANAPOLIS – The Green Bay Packers' contingent of coaches, doctors, executives and personnel evaluators is on the ground at the NFL combine – and so is ESPN's NFL Nation – and therefore we have come to the conclusion of our countdown.

The first three parts focused on the Packers many defensive needs, from safety to defensive line to linebacker.

The final part before we turn our attention to the events at Lucas Oil Stadium for the remainder of the week will focus on what could be the biggest need on the offensive side of the ball for the Packers: tight end, a position group that will meet with reporters here on Thursday.

Why the Packers need help: It all hinges on the Packers' plans for Jermichael Finley, who has said he expects to be cleared soon from his neck fusion surgery. But that doesn't mean the Packers -- or other NFL teams -- will clear him. With Finley headed toward free agency next month, the Packers could simply decide not to re-sign him, regardless of the medical report. But they would be walking away from their most athletic, big-bodied tight end, and therefore would need to find a replacement. Andrew Quarless, who also is scheduled to be a free agent, probably didn't show enough in the second half of the season after Finley's injury to convince anyone that he can be that guy. He's a serviceable player who could return for a modest contract, but he's not a potential difference-maker like Finley. Of the Packers' three other young tight ends, Brandon Bostick has the most potential because of his athleticism and receiving skills, but he remains raw. Ryan Taylor is a solid blocker and top special teams player, and Jake Stoneburner has a ways to go. They also signed street free agent Raymond Webber this offseason. The Packers struggled in the red zone last season, ranking 25th in the touchdown percentage (50.8 percent), and missing a big target like Finley was one of the reasons.

Tight ends the Packers should be watching:

Eric Ebron, North Carolina: In his first mock draft Insider back in December, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay had the Packers taking the 6-foot-4, 231-pound Ebron, who caught 62 passes for 973 yards last season. At that time, the Packers were projected to have the 18th pick in the draft. Now that they're locked into No. 21, it appears Ebron could be gone before the Packers pick.

Jace Amaro, Texas Tech: The 6-5, 260-pound Amaro caught 103 passes last season. He lined up in the slot position most of the time, much like Finley did for the Packers.

Troy Niklas, Notre Dame: More of a pure blocker than Ebron or Amaro, but the 6-7, 270-pounder has the potential to grow into a split-out role. He averaged 15.6 yards per catch on 32 receptions last season.

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