GREEN BAY, Wis. – In a tradition that stretches more than a decade, here is our annual ranking of the 90 players on the Green Bay Packers’ roster. This isn’t merely a look at the best players. Rather, it’s a formula that combines talent, salary, importance of the position, depth at the position and, for young players, draft positioning. More than the ranking, we hope you learn a little something about every player on the roster.
No. 20: TE Jace Sternberger (6-4, 251, second season, Texas A&M)
Note: A version of this story was published on June 28 as part of a series highlighting a key at every position entering training camp.
It was late in the season, with the Packers making their run toward the NFC Championship Game. Even while being thrust into a bigger role due to fullback Danny Vitale’s injury, rookie tight end Jace Sternberger was eagerly looking ahead to 2020.
That’s because a dark moment had become a silver lining. When Sternberger, a third-round draft pick, injured an ankle in the preseason finale, an injury that ultimately sent him to injured reserve, he reached out to Joe Tofferi, a Wausau, Wis.-based trainer recommended by Sternberger’s agent, Mike McCartney. Tofferi has worked with some of McCartney’s high-profile clients, including Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins and Redskins pass rusher Ryan Kerrigan. A month later, Sternberger’s ankle was healed. With Sternberger (and Aaron Jones) meeting with Tofferi twice a week at Sternberger’s place in Green Bay, he dropped 18 pounds by the end of the season.
“Joe knows his (stuff). He’s a beast,” Sternberger said before the playoff game against Seattle while excitedly showing his workout program for the offseason. “I’ve always been athletic so I’ve always gotten away things. In the NFL, that’s not enough. I’m more athletic now than I was last year because I’m more flexible, I’m moving better, I’m doing all the right things. It’s really exciting.”
Entering 2020, the Packers need Sternberger to be the playmaker he was at Texas A&M, where he caught 48 passes for 832 yards (17.3 average) in 2018. The release of Jimmy Graham, an overpaid disappointment who was supposed to create big plays but only rarely did, created a 622-snap void atop the depth chart. While Marcedes Lewis will happily handle the dirty work, there are no sure things among a tight end corps that includes Robert Tonyan and third-round pick Josiah Deguara. Thus, the door is wide open for Sternberger to put his stamp on the position.
During a one-year-wonder type of season at Texas A&M, Sternberger became a field-stretching playmaker. He spent his first two seasons at Kansas, catching a not-so-grand total of one pass for 5 yards. Seeing his talent being wasted, he transferred.
“I was actually on my third offensive coordinator at Kansas, just wasn’t the best fit overall,” he said. “I always dreamed of playing big-time college football, and I felt like the JUCO was the best way for me to get re-recruited by everybody, so from there I went JUCO. Then, coach (Jimbo) Fisher gave me the ultimate opportunity to be the main tight end at Texas A&M and I took that opportunity head-on and it worked out for the better. …
“If you were to tell me that Aaron Rodgers would be my quarterback in about four years, I would have laughed at you and called you a liar.”
After spending 2017 at Northeast Oklahoma A&M, Sternberer led the nation’s tight ends in 2018 with 10 touchdowns and 17.3 yards per reception and tied for first with seven receptions on passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield.
As his former position coach at Texas A&M, Tim Brewster, told Packer Central: “I tell my guys this: Guys that can catch it are a dime a dozen. It’s the easiest thing you’ll ever do on the football field. Guys that run with it after the catch get paid. They get paid. Jace, unheard of, he averaged 17.3 yards per catch in the toughest football conference in America and did it against the best teams in America.”
Why he’s got a chance: When general manager Brian Gutekunst drafted Sternberger, he projected him as a player who could create mismatches in the passing game but be a work in progress in the running game. Ultimately, in his 60 regular-season snaps and 39 playoff snaps, Sternberger played to the opposite of that projection, which perhaps bodes well for his future. His development was stunted by a concussion early in training camp and the aforementioned ankle injury. He didn’t catch a pass (one target) in six games on the active roster but grabbed three passes for 15 yards and one touchdown in the playoffs.
“Getting Jace back towards the end was great,” offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said recently. “With Jace, I think it’s just being consistent, understanding the system and understanding his role, where he fits so he can get on the field and understand what he needs to do to get his job done. Because he has an element of speed that’s very impressive. He’s got fearlessness, he’s very aggressive. So, he has a lot of intangibles, and I just think being able to be consistent, both being available and understanding what he needs to accomplish on the field, is going to be huge. If he gets that, he’ll be a guy that potentially can help us.”
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