How Much Can the Packers Feature Robert Tonyan in 2021?

He was the breakout player that few predicted, and he broke out in a big way in 2020. Recording one of the most efficient seasons ever from the tight end position, Robert Tonyan became a reliable weapon for the Packers last season and appears headed for an even bigger role this year. Matt LaFleur hinted to such earlier this offseason, saying “hopefully we can feature him a little bit more in our offense.” With a deep tight end room, what exactly could a featured role look for Tonyan in 2021?

The most amazing thing about the statistics that Tonyan was able to put up in 2020 was just how efficiently he was able to do so. His 52 receptions came on just 59 targets – for a catch percentage of 88%. For perspective – the “big 3” at the tight end position: Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and Darren Waller all fell between 74-76%, and Davante Adams was at 77%. With a larger role and more targets coming his way, the reasonable expectation would be for Tonyan’s catch percentage to regress closer towards these other numbers, somewhere between 70-75%. 

The big question for Tonyan is just how much can his role grow? Davante Adams had 149 targets a season ago, then with Matt LaFleur’s penchant for involving the running backs in the passing game, there is only so much left to go around. Over the past five seasons, the number two receiving option for the Packers has averaged 86 targets. Looking specifically at the tight end position, Jimmy Graham averaged around 79 targets for his two seasons with the Packers. A reasonable number for Tonyan would likely fall within the range of 75-80 targets. 

The biggest area for growth for Tonyan is outside of the red zone. He has yet to show significant ability after the catch. This was evident as 7 out of his 11 TD receptions occurred in the red zone (5 within the 10-yard line). He has the athletic traits to be more elusive in the open field, and for him to be considered a top-tier tight end he needs to display that more often. 

Expectations are sky-high for Tonyan now, and what could result in 2021 could end up very similar to Aaron Jones over the past two years. Jones’ arguably played his best football in 2020 despite the large regression in his scoring numbers (19 TDs vs 11). Tonyan could very well take a large step forward in his overall game in 2021, but with the historic efficiency numbers he put up last year, expect to see his statistics look a little less gaudy.

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Jared is a rogue Packers fan from a Steelers family and an overall football junkie, including playing 4 years at Ithaca College. You can follow him on twitter at @JPrugar.

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