While there were a number of issues on offense for the Green Bay Packers last season, one in particular that needed to be fixed was the lack of production from the tight end position. But really, this has been an issue for a number of seasons, not just in 2018.
Over the years to solve the problem, Green Bay would look towards free agency for the answer with the additions of Jared Cook and Martellus Bennett, along with Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis in 2018.
However, nothing seemed to work. In fact, this past offseason on the Yahoo Sports show “Mostly Football,” Bennett and Lewis discussed how unfriendly the Mike McCarthy offense was for the tight end position. So perhaps instead of looking for new personnel each season, it was the system that needed to change.
Enter new head coach Matt LaFleur who was expected to utilize the tight end position much more than what we had seen in years past. As the offensive coordinator in Tennessee, the offense was built around Delanie Walker prior to his injury. But even in Walker’s absence, we saw Luke Stocker and Jonnu Smith play significant roles for the Titans in 2018.
As the offseason rolled on we all expected the Green Bay Packers’ tight ends to see more playing time, but it was still speculation at that point. However, after Thursday night’s game in Chicago, we are now certain that all three will be a much bigger part of this year’s team.
Although Graham would play nearly 75 percent of the snaps last season and he was targeted 89 times, he wasn’t the red zone threat that everyone – including Graham – had hoped that he would be.
Graham was targeted just eight times in the red zone in 2018 and caught just two touchdown passes. But against Chicago, Graham would come down with the only touchdown reception of the game and he was even stretching the field – which we didn’t see much last year – as he drew a pass interference penalty downfield.
Meanwhile, Lewis was criminally underutilized last season and at times you had to wonder why Green Bay even signed him. Lewis would play just 17.69 percent of the total offensive snaps and was targeted just four times the entire season.
But week one against Chicago was a different story. Lewis tied with Graham for the most snaps by a tight end with 33 and hauled in two receptions for 14 yards. Lewis is known more as a blocking tight end than a pass-catcher and being in an offense that is going to rely more on the running game should allow him to see the field much more in 2019.
Then we have Robert Tonyan who is the most athletic of the three and brings that big-play potential to this offense. While his skill set was a bit raw last season, we did see his playmaking ability on full display with a 54-yard touchdown grab in Seattle.
Yet, even with his upside and the Packers’ offense struggling, McCarthy kept Tonyan on the sidelines and he was on the field for only 6.24 percent of the offensive snaps.
With that said, based on what we saw in training camp and in the preseason, this is a much improved Robert Tonyan which is going to result in more playing time in 2019. In Chicago, Tonyan played 19 offensive snaps and we saw his big-play ability on full display as he hauled in a 28-yard reception.
In all, the Green Bay Packers’ tight ends would be target 10 times in Chicago, which was a third of Aaron Rodgers’ total pass attempts. Of those 10 targets, the trio would make six catches for 72-yards with a touchdown.
It’s been since the days of Jermichael Finley that the Packers have been trying to solve the mystery that is the tight end position. Even though it’s only been one week, what we saw from this group in Chicago is a good example of what we can expect from the tight ends under LaFleur.
It would certainly appear that the tight end is back in Green Bay.