Rewind'09: NFC North tight ends

As we continue reviewing our season-long themes in the NFC North, it’s time to wrap a bow on the tight end position.

We entered the year intrigued by the new and developing tight end talent on all four NFC North teams. Chicago’s Greg Olsen seemed poised to be an emerging star after the addition of quarterback Jay Cutler. Minnesota’s Visanthe Shiancoe was coming off a career year. Green Bay’s Jermichael Finley was a training camp star. And Detroit invested the No. 20 overall pick in the draft on Oklahoma State’s Brandon Pettigrew.

So how did it all turn out? We had no Pro Bowl players, but three members of this group finished among the NFL’s top 12 for receptions by a tight end. No other division could boast of that, boding well for the future. Here is the breakdown:

Expanding a few thoughts on this theme:

  • Entering the season, we figured Olsen would be Cutler’s No. 1 receiver. As it turned out, he was. Cutler threw 110 passes his way in 2009, tops among all Bears players and the most among NFC North tight ends. The figure ranked No. 8 in the NFL. Cutler probably forced the ball too often in Olsen’s direction in the red zone, but it was clear from the start of training camp that he trusted Olsen more than any other target. More on Olsen next week.

  • Shiancoe led the Vikings with 11 touchdown receptions, ranking second among NFL tight ends. Only San Francisco’s Vernon Davis (13) scored more often.

  • Finley missed three games because of a sprained knee, but when he returned, the Packers’ offense moved notably his way. Over their final five games, Finley caught 28 passes for 337 yards and four touchdowns. According to ESPN’s Stats & Information, those reception and touchdown figures ranked second in the NFL among tight ends for that time period. The Packers also targeted him for nine passes in the red zone over that stretch, tops among NFL tight ends.

  • Pettigrew was just beginning to demonstrate his play-making abilities when the tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee Nov. 26 against Green Bay. He had caught 15 passes in the preceding three games, including a dramatic game-winner Nov. 22 against Cleveland. Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew said this week that Pettigrew’s injury was the low point of the Lions’ season.