Last week we took an in-depth look at the future of the Green Bay Packers offensive line group. There are similarities between the tight end and the o-line rooms with new coaches, injury concerns and untapped potential.
The Packers tight end group has lacked a bona fide difference maker since Jermichael Finley’s career was cut short in 2013. Do the Packers have enough tight end talent currently on their roster? Will 2022 feature any new names?
TE1: Robert Tonyan
Fools gold or gold bullion?
Robert Tonyan is another Packers “project” player who went undrafted and was plucked from the hapless Detroit Lions in 2017.
Much like Yosh Nijman and numerous others, Tonyan flashed enough raw talent to warrant bringing along in their system.
2020 was the payoff with Tonyan catching 52/59 passes thrown his way and turning them into 500+ yards and 11 TDs.
That kind of season stat line will draw some attention.
For Tonyan, a lot of the national attention said something to the effect of “let’s see him do it again next year”.
2021 was a bust for Tonyan.
There was an expectation that he couldn’t continue to score touchdowns with historical efficiency, and that came to fruition with Tonyan only finding the end zone twice in the first 8 weeks of the season.
Then came the ACL tear week 8 against the Cardinals. Not a knock on Tonyan, just another in a line of many Packers tough luck injury losses this past season.
So where does that leave us?
To date Robert Tonyan has only one season of high level NFL production to his name.
He’s an unrestricted free agent. He turns 28 years old in April and he’s coming off an ACL tear.
So, if you’re Brian Gutekunst and Russ Ball what do you do?
This is a sticky spot to be in if you’re the Packers front office.
At this point in the off-season, the Packers have indicated that they’d like to keep as many pieces in the fold as possible even given their significant cap overage.
Do they consider Tonyan a critical piece?
Will another team hand Tonyan a sizable contract with a limited track record and questionable medicals?
I think the Packers will retain Tonyan on a 1-year “prove-it” type deal in the $2.5-$3 million range with some void years to get the cap hit lower and also potentially spend a draft selection on a tight end prospect.
The injury timing is unfortunate for Tonyan as any team that signs him with more than likely have him on the physically unable to perform list to begin the year and basically get half a season’s worth of production out of him if all goes according to plan.
When he’s healthy, he’s a definite asset but at 28 and now with an injury history I don’t think we’ll ever see a Kittle or Kelce-like transformation out of Big Bob.
TE2: Marcedes Lewis
Father time is undefeated, but Marcedes Lewis has the clock at a near standstill.
At this stage in his career the Packers know what they’re getting out of Lewis. A heady, respected leader, a sixth starting offensive lineman and the occasional first down rumble in the flats.
Much like his quarterback Aaron Rodgers, it’s not a guarantee at this time that Lewis will be continuing his football playing days.
Lewis has had a decorated 16 year career in the NFL and for all of those 16 years a Super Bowl ring has eluded him.
He’s under contract for 2022 with a manageable $2.4 million cap hit, and my gut says that if Rodgers is back, “Big Dog” will be too.
I know the Packers have already filled the tight end group coaching position after the loss of Justin Outten, but could you think of anyone better to slide into an assistant coaching role than Marcedes Lewis?
He’s a guy you want in the building long after his playing days are finished.
TE3: Josiah Deguara
Josiah Deguara was another member of the (at the time, for sure) Packers head-scratching 2020 NFL draft class.
After the stunning first round selection of Jordan Love and the seemingly redundant AJ Dillon pick in the second, drafting an H-Back out of Cincinnati with their third rounder was not exactly awe-inspiring.
Deguara was billed as a do-it-all guy. He can be a lead blocker in the backfield (gotta have that!), he can be an in-line blocker, he can catch it out of the backfield and he can split out wide.
At least until he gets hurt, that is.
The book was closed on Deguara’s 2020 rookie season before we finished the prologue after he tore his ACL in week 4 against the Atlanta Falcons.
He bounced back in 2021 with relative ease, playing in 16/17 games (missing week two with a concussion sustained against the opening loss to the Saints)
I’ll be honest, except for his 62 yard TD scamper in a meaningless game against the Lions, I didn’t see much of note from Deguara.
Tight end is a notoriously tricky position to adjust from the college ranks to the demands of the NFL. Couple that with a significant injury and you can imagine that Josiah is behind the 8-ball.
All hope is not lost, and I still think that Deguara could potentially play that Kyle Juszczyk Swiss army knife role but it’s a stretch to say that he’s the anointed future starter at the position.
I think what the Packers front office does this off-season will tip their hand about what they actually think of Deguara.
If they re-sign Tonyan, and draft a tight end in the top 100 that will speak volumes.
TE4: Dominique Dafney
Dominique Dafney is the Marcedes Lewis insurance policy.
His trademark is blocking and he likely will never offer much as a receiver.
The problem is the when Dafney was called upon last season, his blocking was sometimes suspect.
I don’t believe that Dominique offers a unique enough skillset to have a firm grip on a roster spot, and he will have to really exhibit some mauling blocking skills during training camp to make the 2022 squad.
TE5: Tyler Davis
Tyler Davis was a 2020 6th round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
I think his case closely resembles that of Robert Tonyan. A former college receiver-type who was cast aside early by his initial team and has some no-cost upside potential.
Davis checks in a 6-4 with a 4.65 40 time and an 80th percentile RAS score at the position. A little on the older side for a prospect, turning 25 before week one. Not a bad flier to take, but far from a guaranteed roster spot.
The tight end group has been without a true star player since Keith Jackson retired after the ’96 season. Is it a coincidence that the two Lombardi’s the Packers have brought home in recent memory featured top flight players at the tight end position (Jermichael Finley in 2011)?
Maybe the counterpoint is that the Packers have had loads of regular season success while having a revolving door at tight end for large stretches of time.
I don’t believe that the tight end position will make or break any current/future Packers rosters, but a dynamic, big bodied pass catcher couldn’t hurt in the effort to push the current squad over the top.
You can follow Adam on twitter at @adamjcarlson28.