Expect to See More Robert Tonyan this Season

Coming off a huge 2020 season, Matt LaFleur would like to "feature" Robert Tonyan more this upcoming season.

It goes without saying, but Robert Tonyan has certainly come a long way since entering the NFL as an undrafted rookie in 2017 and being a college receiver, no less. Not only was Tonyan transitioning to a new position, but to a very difficult one at that.

Tight ends have to be able to run routes and understand passing concepts like a receiver, but also have proper blocking technique like a tackle--this is a big reason why we see so many young tight ends get off to slow starts in their NFL careers.

So naturally, when Tonyan had just 14 combined receptions during the 2018 and 2019 seasons, that should have been expected as he was still developing into his role. However, in that small sample size, we still saw flashes from Tonyan as he totaled 177 yards, two touchdowns and continued to improve as a blocker.

Tonyan has had some excellent mentors at the tight end position to work alongside of. In Green Bay, there has been Jimmy Graham, and there still is Marcedes Lewis, while over the last few offseasons, he has worked out with San Francisco's George Kittle.

That hard work culminated into a monster 2020 season for Tonyan that came with some remarkable efficiency. When it was all said and done, Tonyan caught 60 of his 66 targets, according to PFF ($$), which is an absurd 90.9 percent completion rate. He would total 668 yards at 11.1 yards per catch along with 12 touchdowns, including the playoffs. 

“He’s probably progressed as much as any player we’ve had in the last two years,” Matt LaFleur told reporters during OTAs. “I know he had a really good season last year, and I think there’s still more there for him. I think he’s still learning the position and continues to get better and better, but I love his attitude, I love his work ethic, and I think he’s really confident right now.”

Now looking ahead to the 2021 season, will Tonyan be able to top his 2020 performance statistically? The odds say he won't -- at least not from an efficiency standpoint -- but that doesn't mean he can't improve and make a bigger impact. And for Tonyan, that means refining his route running and being better as a run-blocker.

“Just keep getting better in the run game – get faster, stronger,” Tonyan told reporters. “Run every route imaginable and show these coaches I keep getting better every year.”

As Wes Hodkiewicz of Packers.com notes, in addition to being a massive red zone threat last season, Tonyan was also a favorite target of Aaron Rodgers on play-action rollouts. Matt LaFleur was thrilled to have Tonyan at OTAs as it gave them the opportunity to experiment with different routes so that Green Bay can "feature" him in the offense more this season.

"Right now is just a great time for us to experiment with him on different routes, so hopefully, we can feature him a little bit more in our offense next season."

Tonyan really is the ideal tight end for this LaFleur offense with his willingness and ability as an in-line blocker but also with the athleticism he brings as a move tight end, which helps create mismatches for this offense to exploit. By expanding his route tree and responsibilities in the passing game, that should lead to more opportunities and big plays.

In terms of targets, Tonyan finished fourth on the team last season behind Davante Adams, Aaron Jones, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and from the sounds of it, LaFleur is going to do his best to make sure that Tonyan can try to build upon his 2020 performance. And as a coach, why wouldn't you do that? Tonyan was incredibly dominant. 

"The expectations for him are still high. He has high expectations for himself," said tight ends coach Justin Outten via Packers.com. "He knows that he can take his game to another level in all facets, not just the run game. His route tree is getting better as we move forward these last couple weeks. The pass game has come alive in the protection world. He's still continuing to make strides, even right now."

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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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8 points

Comments (25)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
stockholder's picture

July 05, 2021 at 11:45 am

Now this is a nice article. Writing about others; is why Ray Nitschke's packer Report was a must read.

7 points
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LambeauPlain's picture

July 05, 2021 at 12:07 pm

Agree...good story. Big Bob is a great story.

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jont's picture

July 05, 2021 at 12:00 pm

There's been a lot of love for Tonyan on this board, and I've provided my share. It's pretty clear that he fits into this offensive scheme really well. Considering how the QB moves the ball around, I don't know how many more targets he can get and since he doesn't drop anything it seems unlikely to me that he'll get more catches or TDs-- and this would still be great for the team.
He could do better in yards after the catch, but if he simply replicates his output year after year he's a critically important player.

7 points
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splitpea1's picture

July 05, 2021 at 12:28 pm

Excellent comment. Deguara and Amari will be getting more opportunities as well, once they get on the field.

2 points
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dobber's picture

July 05, 2021 at 01:45 pm

I think you're right on. As long as #17 is around, Tonyan may not catch any more passes but will still be a valuable piece in this offense.. If he's close to the same efficiency as 2020 and his blocking continues to improve who could ask for much more?

If Adams walks after 2021, then it's a free-for-all in 2022 and THAT'S when you might see Tonyan blow up (because I assume they'll sign him to a long-term deal before 2021 is up).

3 points
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Stroh's picture

July 05, 2021 at 05:05 pm

Usually when a player is as efficient as Tonyan and makes the most of his opportunities, coaches find ways to get them more chances. He's far more efficient than MVS and Lazard, so just giving him some opportunities from less efficient players is a good place to start along with creating more within the offense. I have no doubt Tonyan can improve his stats!

5 points
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HawkPacker's picture

July 05, 2021 at 12:11 pm

IMHO, the packer tight end group is very strong and it all starts with Tonyan. Hopefully he will be even better this coming year.

I am also very excited about Deguara as well. Hopefully, he will get over his injury and be as good as I believe he can be.

Then you have the big dog who is a great blocker and can catch as well. Also, what a locker room presence as well.

Hopefully Sternberger will arrive this year starting with the third game. We have all been waiting for him to flourish. He has a tough attitude and hopefully he gets it together this year or he could be out of the league before long!

Lastly, the coaching staff really likes Dafney. I don't know much about him but apparently he is another very good blocker and can be used as a full back as well.

6 points
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dobber's picture

July 05, 2021 at 01:47 pm

As long as Lewis is around, and I presume the Packers mean to keep him at least through 2022, Deguara and Tonyan will stymie Dafney and Sternberger and limit their access to offensive snaps. I would argue that one of those guys won't make the final cut this season.

0 points
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Stroh's picture

July 05, 2021 at 05:18 pm

It's certainly not out of the question to keep 5 TE, especially since at least 3 or 4 can be excellent ST contributors.

The TE group really has 3 specific positions within the group.
1. Blocking / Inline - Lewis, no real backup but many alternatives.
2. Move TE / receiver - Tonyan and Sternberger
3. H back (TE / FB) - Deguara and Dafney

When looking at it in that context and adding ST contributions you can easily justify keeping 5 TE.

3 points
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Coldworld's picture

July 05, 2021 at 08:52 pm

Bronson Kaufusi is the back up to Lewis, likely from the PS I think, but he’s a 270 pound blocking TE and former DL.

If I had to guess, the position where one could be lost might be the second TE not H Back. In addition to there needing to be a backup to Deguara, Daffney is a much better ST player than sternberger and can also play true FB (if LaFleur wants one).

Sternberger is in a pinch I think. Tonyan is a given, he’s starting. Sternberger isn’t a great blocker. Daffney is a much better one and so is Nuata. If both Lazard and Funchess make the roster, you have 2 WRs who can play some or all, respectively, of the move TE route tree.

Obviously Sternberger is not on the roster to start the season, but it may take an injury to replace Daffney or Nuata if the role is block heavy and they met prefer to use receivers in lieu of his offensive threat. It will really require Sternberger to show as a blocker and that he can be a weapon to force his way on absent injury. Right now he’s probably the third best of Daffney, Nuata and him.

I don’t see that Sternberger obviously has a spot if all are healthy just as a move type. Tonyan beat him to it—unless the coaches are truly high on him or the fear of losing Tonyan is sufficient to keep him over a more natural blocker/STer.

2 points
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Stroh's picture

July 05, 2021 at 10:35 pm

No way they are giving up on a 3rd rd pick at a position that generally takes a few yrs to figure out. There are any number of guys that can take snaps as a backup to Lewis if he's injured.

Sternberger will be back and I don't see any way he makes the PS, which the udfa can easily be put on.

The Packers just aren't in the business of giving up on valuable draft choices. Have you not seen Josh Jackson being kept till yr 4?!

3 points
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Coldworld's picture

July 06, 2021 at 09:41 am

He probably doesn’t make the PS on his pick position alone—a team will spin the wheel, but if he doesn’t shine in camp he’s neither the best blocker or offensive weapon that the spot could be used for. As I said, keeping a player like that takes a strong commitment to his potential, because it makes the team worse in the short term. If there are players with upside that can provide more value on O or STs, that’s a tough decision. If Sternberger stays healthy and puts it together that is one thing. If not, I wouldn’t be so sure.

As to Jackson or Burks for that matter, I’m not sure that’s something to look at as a desirable model, but I think it is also important to point out that neither had a strong push from players behind for their roster spot on D or ST. TE/H Back, big WR is different, plus there is a bigger ST component potentially.

0 points
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Hematite's picture

July 06, 2021 at 11:49 am

IMHO Sternberger is as good as gone.

-1 points
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LambeauPlain's picture

July 05, 2021 at 12:24 pm

If only Sternberger would step up and follow in Big Bob's footsteps. He sure has the size. If not there are some other young TEs on the roster that may, like Dafney and Kaufusi. Crowded room.

Using more 2 TE sets with A. Rodgers and Jones and Deguara, or Jones and Dillon, creates even more "illusions of complexity".....and would keep the passing game defense on its toes. Load the box at your peril!

1 points
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ImaPayne's picture

July 05, 2021 at 02:30 pm

I gave up on Sternberger. He has proven he is an accident waiting to happen and just cant take the punishment of college ball let alone pro. One more concussion and his career is done, no doc would ever approve him moving on.

0 points
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GregC's picture

July 05, 2021 at 05:21 pm

Where are you getting this? I can't find any record of Sternberger being injured in college. He's had an ankle injury and two concussions as a pro, but one of them was from a cheap shot to the head that would've injured anybody. I've never heard that players have to retire after a third concussion. I don't think Sternberger's injury situation is as dire as you portray it to be.

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jannes bjornson's picture

July 05, 2021 at 09:05 pm

This guy is on Q's reading list.

1 points
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Leatherhead's picture

July 05, 2021 at 02:28 pm

When LaFleur says he wants to ‘feature’ Tonyan, that means he’s going to design plays to get him the ball.

I only mention this because some people have told me that on pass plays the QB doesn’t know where he’s going with the ball before the snap and just throws it to whoever gets open. That’s why you need a superduper #2.

0 points
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Stroh's picture

July 05, 2021 at 11:57 pm

Well there are progressions the QB goes thru for a reason. The 1st progression is the primary receiver. The QB can often get an idea where to go w/ the ball before the snaps based on the alignment of the D. if the primary reciever is covered or the D changes its look after the snap it does change things to some degree. But there is still a primary, secondary and outlet guys he can go to. A QB of Rodgers experience ususally knows or at least has a very good idea who's getting the ball.

Just throwing to whoever is open is a very simplistic way of looking at it IMO. Its many times more complicated.

4 points
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Leatherhead's picture

July 07, 2021 at 01:26 pm

You should explain that to Hank Scorpio.

0 points
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GregC's picture

July 05, 2021 at 04:01 pm

Tonyan was great last year and deserved to make the Pro Bowl, but he benefited tremendously from the offensive scheme. On most of his catches, he was running free and clear. Good speed and good route running definitely had something to do with that, but I think Matt LaFleur did an outstanding job of designing plays that allowed Tonyan to get wide open. That's why his catch percentage was so high. He did not have to make many contested catches.

I hope that Tonyan has similar success in the future, but it's possible that defenses will key in on him a bit more, which may make it hard for him to put together such great stats again.

3 points
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Stroh's picture

July 05, 2021 at 05:26 pm

If Tonyan benefitted from the offensive scheme so much , I guess you have to say Kittle did as well. It's basically the exact same scheme.

I would say NoOne benefitted from the scheme more than Lazard and it's not even close! Lazard is a #4 WR at best on just about every other team. At least Tonyan is clearly starting TE material, which I would never say about Lazard!

-3 points
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NoNonsense's picture

July 05, 2021 at 09:18 pm

I disagree completely Stroh. In this kind of scheme yes, you want a Lazard type on the field at all times. He's basically a TE playing WR, he's big and tall with 4.5 speed and hes a phenomenal blocker. You must have forgotten the game against the Saints with his 146 yrds and a TD with Adams missing the game due to injury. That was his breakout game but as luck would have it, he would miss the next 6 or 7 games due to core muscle surgery that he injured sometime early in that game. When he returned he probably wasn't in great football shape and was kind of the forgotten man for a while. You miss that much time you don't just seamlessly transition back to where you left off, especially with that type of injury and surgery.

I know there are a lot of mouths to feed in this offense but Lazard is as rock solid an option as any of them. With full health he might just surprise they hell out of ya Stroh. On another offense I still think he would make a good starting WR because he's such a good blocker downfield and one could argue with a QB that's willing to throw more 50 50 balls he could be even better than he has been to this point.

4 points
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Stroh's picture

July 06, 2021 at 12:01 am

Your name says it all. Nonsense

Disagree if you like, but if you really think Lazard is anything more than a #4 your very mistaken! And no matter Tonyan's defficiencies you want to point out, more than 50% of the NFL would take him as a starter in a heartbeat. That is certainly not the case w/ Lazard. Lazard being a great blocker for his position in no way makes him a TE playing WR! he's a bottom of the roster WR! Open your eyes!

-6 points
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bizz888's picture

July 14, 2021 at 10:39 am

Tonyan came seemingly came out of nowhere last season.
Really helped me with my FFL team!
Hopefully, he'll continue to surge and the QB situation will sort itself out

https://www.mobileweldingwizards.com

0 points
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