A Lot to Like About Green Bay's TE Room in 2021 but Could be a Need in 2022

For the first time in years, as we look ahead to the new season, there is a lot to like about the Green Bay Packers' tight end room. However, that could change in 2022.

For the first time in years, at least when specifically talking about the 2021 season, there really aren't too many question marks surrounding the Green Bay Packers tight end room. But prior to 2020, finding consistent production at this position was like solving a Rubik's cube--although it's not for lack of effort.
 
Up until Robert Tonyan's monster season, it had been since the days of Jermichael Finley that the tight end was such a weapon in this offense. Now, part of his success is contributed to Matt LaFleur's system, which is much more friendly on tight ends than what Mike McCarthy's was, but there were also a lot of swings and misses in free agency as well.
 
In 2016, Jared Cook made some noise over the second half of the season but signed elsewhere that offseason. We all know how the Martellus Bennett saga ended, and while exciting initially, the Jimmy Graham addition didn't pan out either. 
 
However, if we look around the Green Bay Packers' tight end room heading into this season, rather than a number of unknowns, there is instead a lot to like. 
 
Robert Tonyan is coming off an incredibly efficient season in which he caught 88.1 percent of his 59 targets along with 11 touchdowns. Realistically, he isn't going to match those numbers again, but he became a reliable target for Aaron Rodgers--especially in the red zone, and that will carry over to the new season.
 
While we didn’t get to see much of Josiah Deguara, in that Week 1 win over Minnesota, we saw why LaFleur had to have him. In 24 snaps, he was lined up all over the formation, making key blocks, hauling in a reception, and was also a downfield option for Rodgers on a designed play.
 
A full year with Deguara in the offense playing that do-it-all role that’s important to LaFleur’s system will provide a boost to this already productive Packers’ offense.
 
Jace Sternberger’s career has been quiet up to this point, dealing with injuries and a lack of playing time, but as I wrote not too long ago, don’t give up just yet.
 
For most tight ends it takes at least two years, and sometimes it’s not until their third season that they make that leap. When on the field, we’ve seen that he’s a willing blocker, has that positional flexibility, and that he can get open, even if the stat sheet doesn’t necessarily reflect that.
 
Lastly is Dominique Dafney, who plays that similar H-back role to Deguara. And when a position such as this one is as important as it is to the LaFleur offense, you need a backup.
 
At the end of the season, Dafney was presented with an opportunity and took advantage of it. Again, showing off that positional flexibility—lining up all over the formation and hauling in a few receptions as well, including a touchdown.
 
As promising as this young group is, re-signing Marcedes Lewis to another one-year veteran minimum deal would make this tight end room look even better.
 
As the team’s Y-tight end, Lewis is oftentimes like a sixth offensive lineman on the field. And while the other tight ends are asked to block as well — it’s a requirement in this offense — they all have varying degrees of success, and none of them are asked to do it as much as Lewis. Not to mention that he's also been a leader on this team.
 
For the first time in a long time, there aren't those questions about the Green Bay Packers' tight end situation. However, that could very well change. If we bust out our crystal ball and look ahead to 2022, things could be quite different, depending on how this season plays out.
 
As much as I love what Deguara brings to this offense, and I do believe he will be a successful player, as we've seen, this offense needs more than one productive tight end. So what do the Green Bay Packers do if Sternberger struggles again in Year 3?
 
Once again, in 2022, the Packers will be in a cap crunch; will they give Tonyan a long-term deal? Dafney's skill-set is similar to that of Deguara's, and we don't even know if Lewis will be back in 2021, let alone 2022. 
 
All of a sudden, this room that looks pretty good right now could look a lot different--which is why I wouldn't rule out Green Bay spending a mid-round draft pick -- Rounds 3 through 5 in my book -- on the tight end position.
 
With that said, that's a bridge to cross when we get there. For the 2021 season, there is a lot to like about this tight end room, and that's a very good thing, considering how important the position is to the LaFleur system and having it firing on all cylinders.

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Born and raised in Green Bay, WI and I still call it home. After my family, watching the Packers, sharing my opinions on the team through my writing and interacting with other fans is my greatest passion. You can find me on Twitter at @Paul_Bretl. 
 

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Comments (18)

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Packers0808's picture

March 22, 2021 at 11:08 am

Bringing back Lewis only makes sense. Packers screwing around here may not be too smart not to sign him before someone else does!

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

March 23, 2021 at 12:57 am

The Packers literally do not have enough cap space to sign Lewis to a one-year deal at present.

The next question is whether they want to? I would think so, but his receiving ability really almost wholly disappeared in 2020. We shall see.

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Coldworld's picture

March 23, 2021 at 07:29 am

I’m not sure his receiving was all that different last year.
In a better O, he caught 10 as opposed to 15 passes but also 3 TDs versus 1 the prior year. His YPC went up. He did play less snaps.

I guess I don’t see Lewis as being a weapon for the most part, though he has good hands when neglected. As long as he can maintain his blocking and we don’t have an at least comparable alternative, there is a good chance he us back if he wants to. I doubt either side is in a rush at this point.

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mnbadger's picture

March 22, 2021 at 12:50 pm

Bringing the big dog back for another year is especially critical given our current lack of depth at tackle. GPG

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TarynsEyes's picture

March 22, 2021 at 01:14 pm

Don't panic about Lewis. Nobody is signing him, but the Packers, if he gets signed at all.

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Coldworld's picture

March 22, 2021 at 02:33 pm

The key question in the TE room is Sternberger. If he comes on, Tonyan may be more replaceable after this season. If he does not, since neither Daffney nor Deguara are true TEs in build, experience or skill set, we have a hole.

Look for us to bring in youth behind Sternberger to hedge our bets (the same principle that has a true blocking TE type on our development squad in case Lewis doesn’t return).

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barutanseijin's picture

March 22, 2021 at 03:23 pm

It’s more likely Sternberger gets replaced than Sternberger replaces anyone, much less TE1.

After all, Sternberger still has a lot to prove. He has to show he can stay on the field & that he is a reliable team player who is willing to take on less glamorous assignments like special teams and blocking and execute them well.

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flackcatcher's picture

March 22, 2021 at 06:33 pm

Sternberger's health is the issue, and we know nothing about that. Packer's should draft and bring in FA TE nonetheless. The need to have depth overwrites all. Football is such a brutal game...

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stockholder's picture

March 22, 2021 at 04:13 pm

I just don't see how Tonyan can Leave. And Lewis stays. Then there is Deguara. Because both Tonyan and Sternberger were not the apple of Gute's Eye. Gute's TE plan? How was Graham Gute's guy and Tonyan isn't? Then Sternberger was. Then Deguara. And now Dafney? I get the packers want TEs. But you really need one just for Rodgers. Why is this team wanting to go the specialist route at TE? Didn't Gute really Over Draft/Over Think this position? I only wish one could return punts. Then it would make sense.

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packer132's picture

March 22, 2021 at 06:41 pm

Tonyan is not leaving unless a team wants to give Packers a 2nd round pick. Lewis should be back, as he is a needed blocker and good locker room teammate. Gute does not have a "guy". You need four TE's with the different schemes and injuries (see last year). No one knows how good most of these players are until training camp and preseason, as only Tonyan played enough games. Dafney played well in limited time, and Deguara played one game before injury. Sternberger was injured almost all year. Also need players for special teams. You don't get a punt returner from a TE, and Pack should draft a smaller WR who can be a return guy.

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Archie's picture

March 22, 2021 at 02:28 pm

If the Pack does draft a TE in R3-R5 rang as suggested by the author, I'd look to Notre Dame. They have a guy that would fit nicely into this offense.

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Minniman's picture

March 22, 2021 at 04:08 pm

"Lastly is Dominique Dafney, who plays that similar H-back role to Deguara. And when a position such as this one is as important as it is to the LaFleur offense, you need a backup."

Paul, I also see the small, shifty slot receiver role in exactly the same light as you mentioned above. Movement and motions are an important part of MLF's offensive strategy.

When Ervin went down and Jones was also banged up, MLF's offense suffered - greatly.

This is reportedly a deep WR draft class this year. While I'm not sure about early, I fully expect Gute\MLF to take one, if not 2 (or 3!), WR's of this ilk to fill this role.

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Minniman's picture

March 22, 2021 at 04:31 pm

Regarding the 2021 Draft WR classmen that fit the above profile, 2 names are intriguing:

1) D'Wayne Eskridge: 4.33 speed. Some route prowess but ex college DB. Noted sure tackler, blocker and STer. Could anchor GB's ST unit for a while and develop into a slot threat that's not afraid of doing the dirty work (blocking, rubs etc).

2) Demetric Felton: Hybrid RB\WR and kick returner. Could replace Ervin in the starting line and if he pans out could provide an option for Gute to move on from Aaron Jones in 2 years (if Jones play declines).

There's a few others, like Cornell Powell, who have strong route awareness already, that would make sense in MLF's scheme.

I'm normally a BPA person, so the above guys would need to make sense somewhere in the middle\late rounds - but its easy to see how they fit MLF's offense and just where they would contribute to the Packers in year 1 and throughout the "Rodgers Window"....... thanks again to Dusty Evely for the "The Passing Chronicles" articles this year. It sheds a whole new light when observing prospects when we look at just HOW they would be used..... and how their play would actually compliment an already potent unit (without over-crowding a capability).

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AlwaysJunkRemoval's picture

March 22, 2021 at 07:38 pm

Bringing back Lewis will happen. I really doubt anyone else signs him.

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HankScorpio's picture

March 23, 2021 at 04:59 am

To suggest the Packers have a nice TE room right here and now is a bit of a stretch for me. For my tastes, the question about 2022 apply to 2021 as well. Especially the way this offense uses guys of this type. Picturing how ML would make use of the 2011 group of Finley, Ryan Taylor, Andrew Quarless, Tom Crabtree and DJ Williams is something. This group has some serious catch up to get that far, IMO.

I certainly do like what Robert Tonyan did in 2020 but it is not much more than a nice start to what will hopefully be more. He did not crack 600 yards receiving. He was 14th among TEs in catches and 13th in yards. He did tie Travis Kelce for most TDs by a TE . TD catches are a notoriously up and down thing. All in all, it was a nice year but not a spectacular one. Compared to what they had been getting from TE, he's Superman. But among all TEs, he's closer to Clark Kent. And let's not forget that he was catching balls from the MVP in a lights-out offense that was running guys all over the secondary free of coverage. If he signed a tender with TB (picking last in round 2) that was $1 more than the RFA tender, I'd seriously consider taking the 2nd, The only reason I'd even have to consider it is that the offense wants a strong TE room and it is so weak beside him.

As for the rest of the TE room, they were in that same offense with that same MVP QB. It's hard to remember much of what they didi. Lewis is what he is. A good blocker and leader but older than the hills and not yet signed. And may not be signed because he is older than the hills. I have not yet completely given up on Sternberger but the only word to describe him so far is bust. Daffney and Deguara showed little flashes of nice things but are either of them TEs or FBs? Or does that distinction not matter? If it does not matter, I suppose that changes the calculus.

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MTmind's picture

March 23, 2021 at 11:07 am

“They were in that same offense with that same MVP QB”... same can be said about Graham who went for 447 yards with 3TDs in 2019 with something like 2TDs in 2018. He was also averaging a $10 million per year paycheck. Everyone seems to suggest Tonyan’s year was an anomaly and, regardless, a “nice start”. Numbers don’t lie and his performance was a dramatic improvement over Graham’s. If the Packers were able to find the money to pay Graham, why is keeping Tonyan beyond 2021 even worth discussing? What suggests he won’t have the same level of success this year? Just curious. Most people act like he is dispensable when the Packers have gone without a decent option at TE for years.

Also, a bit confused about criticism regarding Tonyan not surpassing 600 receiving yards. Rodgers threw for the seventh highest number of yards in 2020 at 4,299. Was Tonyan supposed to have taken away catches from other WRs, TEs, or RBs? It’s not like the Packers were lacking in passing yardage. The fact that TEs like Waller, Hockenson, and Gesicki have such a high amount of receiving yards speaks more to an imbalance in their offensive system that them being superior players at the TE position in my opinion.

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BAMABADGER's picture

March 23, 2021 at 05:53 am

Make or break year for Sternberger. If he doesn't come in to camp stronger and stay healthy he needs to move on.

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