It seems like just yesterday everyone was discussing, who is Aaron Rodgers going to throw to this season? In fact, I’m sure if you scroll through the bowels of social media, you’ll still see people naively asking this question today. But before the opening kickoff in Minnesota, some thought this would be a big season for the Green Bay Packers Tight Ends.
Given the fact that the Packers had four new receivers entering the season, three being rookies, it seemed like a no-brainer that Robert Tonyan might have been on track for a big season. Some even expected Josiah Deguara to have a breakout season, but that definitely hasn’t come true. Marcedes Lewis might have an excuse given that he’s mainly used as a blocking Tight End, but then there’s Tyler Davis who I honestly don’t understand why the coaches love him so much.
The Tight Ends group currently combines for 63 catches, 524 yards, and 2 touchdowns. If you want some perspective, Christian Watson, Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, Romeo Doubs, and even Aaron Jones have produced about as much on their own as all four tight ends combined.
So, what gives?
An easy excuse for Robert Tonyan could be that he hasn’t fully returned to form from his ACL injury suffered last season. However, there’s really been no indication of that being the case. Tonyan started out the season about how you might expect his return to be post-injury. He averaged 3-4 catches the first five games for short yardage and a touchdown until he had a breakout vs the Jets in week 6 catching 10 passes for 90 yards. Was the weapon back now? Not exactly, that performance was once again followed up with a 3-4 catch per game average for minimal yardage the next three games. Then starting week 10, the production had gone down to only about a 2-catch average.
I stated before that Marcedes Lewis might have the benefit of being a block-first tight end to give him a pass for his 3 catches for 20 yards and a TD, but the other tight ends, not so much. Deguara has only averaged a catch or two per game, and Tyler Davis seems to only really be a Special Teams player despite some of the excitement that surrounded him in Training Camp for some reason.
Christian Watson’s breakout playing a role
One argument that could be made, is the breakout of rookie receiver Christian Watson. Since the emergence of Watson in week 10, Tonyan’s production has fallen off. It seems right now that when it comes to the passing game, Aaron Rodgers is now only hitting Allen Lazard, Christian Watson, or Randall Cobb downfield, and if they’re not open, he’s dumping it off to Aaron Jones or AJ Dillon. Watson has given Rodgers a more dynamic option that neither tight end provides. And now with Romeo Doubs likely returning to the lineup Monday night, it’ll be interesting to see if the tight end production takes an even greater hit.
Deguara the only “sure thing” in 2023
Tonyan, Lewis, and Davis are all on contract years. Leaving Josiah Deguara the only tight end currently under contract for 2023. Given his “average” production this year, Tonyan might come a bit cheaper to resign. Lewis also could be a cheap one-year deal, but retirement could also be in his immediate future. Deguara is the only Tight End we know for sure will be a Packer in 2023 barring any unforeseen change.
So, why hasn’t he been featured more? When Deguara was drafted everyone raved about his versatility. He could be a fullback, tight end, and could even split out wide. But we just haven’t seen that utilized, at all. There have been moments where Deguara has shown spurts of progress, but then he has disappeared. I don’t think it’s been of his own doing either, he’s just not on the field. In my opinion it’s one of the biggest mysteries of the last two seasons. We spent the 3rd round pick on him, but yet he seems to have received less investment than some later round picks lately.
What could come next?
For the Packers Tight Ends in 2023, a makeover is needed. The Packers haven’t had a dynamic Tight End since Jermichael Finley. Honestly, I feel like this could be a reason for their inability to get over that hump into Super Bowl-winning territory. Imagine the 2016, 2019, or 2020 Packers with a dynamic tight end like a Travis Kelce or George Kittle. A 6’4 athletic tight end with the ability to create mismatches on every play.
With the future looking bright at Wide Receiver with Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs, I think the focus needs to be Tight End. So far, the top TE prospect for the NFL Draft appears to be Michael Mayer out of Notre Dame. At an athletic 6’4, Mayer could be a mid-late first round to second round pick and could be available if the Packers decide that he’s their guy. Otherwise, the Free Agent pool could be thin for a big change and a trade could be needed to truly revamp the position.
Albert Okwuegbunam has been rumored to be a possible cheap athletic trade option that could only cost the Packers a late round pick. It’s always said that GM Brian Gutekunst loves his athletic specimens, and at 6’5 258 lbs, Okwuegbunam still runs a 4.49 which makes him a mismatch with any DB. He’s had his flashes in Denver, but one could argue he just hasn’t been utilized very well. Perhaps the Packers could send a 5th round pick to Denver for the chance to unlock Okwuegbunam’s potential.
Regardless of the options, change is needed for the Packers tight ends. Whether it’s a breakout from the current regime or some new blood being brought in, the future success of this offense I think needs that go-to tight end.
Greg Meinholz is a lifelong devoted Packer fan. A contributor to PackersTalk as well as CheeseheadTV. Follow him on Twitter at @gmeinholz. for Packers commentary, random humor, beer endorsements, and occasional Star Wars and Marvel ramblings.