Lost in the drama of Aaron Rodgers positive COVID test and subsequent anti-vaxxer news is, possibly, the biggest challenge the Packers’ offense will face for the rest of the season and playoffs. Who is the team’s Robert Tonyan replacement?
Let’s look at the options.
Marcedes Lewis has actually been more efficient on his targets than Tonyan this year but a big part of that is because of how rarely he gets those targets. Lewis is a crucial part of the teams run game and play action shot play offense, but I doubt he will be able to take over as a full-time tight end getting ten plus targets in some games and lining up in the slot.
More likely, Lewis will get a few more snaps and maybe more targets off play action but won’t completely replace Tonyan.
Dominique Dafney & Josiah Deguara
If any of the tight ends currently on the roster can fully replace Tonyan, I think Dafney is the guy. He’s been used more like a fullback so far in his career, but he had some good snaps lined up inline in the preseason, he has the trust of the QB and head coach, and he clearly has more juice than any of the other options. Look for his usage to go way up by the end of the year. Dafney has also spent the most time among the group working with Jordan Love meaning he could potentially get a head start on production over the next few weeks.
Deguara has been touted as the full-time replacement, but he’s been disappointing this year. He single-handedly spoiled a potential fourth down conversion attempt against Washington and that wasn’t his first mental error. It seems like he has a long way to go to be fully trusted by Rodgers – somewhere Dafney already is.
Lazard was billed as a potential tight end convert coming into the league and has been widely hailed as on of the leagues best blocking wide receivers. Many Packers fans wanted the team to trade for Evan Engram or David Njoku earlier this week, but what do those guys bring that Lazard doesn’t? Lazard can block every bit as well as either of them and is often used in the hip position or right off the tackle to block.
Here’s the sneaky option. Rodgers was used a lot in the same way as Lazard to block in the run game during the pre-season. I’ve talked before about the Packers’ coaching staff’s background in college football, if they decide to fully embrace that type of option and use a lot of four wide receiver sets, Rodgers can be used to dig out safeties and slow the backside pursuit on run plays. Don’t be surprised if the Packers run better out of 10 personnel with Lazard and Rodgers condensed into the formation than many teams do out of 12 personnel with two tight ends on the field.
Unless a veteran tight end goes full Odell (fulldell?) in the next few weeks and forces his release, the Packers will use a combination of the above options. Deguara and Dafney will get more snaps, Lewis will get more targets, Lazard will line up in the hip position even more often, and Amari Rodgers might even get some play.
The existing tight end free agent options aren’t great. When Trey Burton is the best option, you may as well stick the guys on your roster.
Mike Price is a lifelong Packers fan currently living in Utah. You can follow him on twitter at @themikeprice.