Packers Roster Dark Horses to Keep an Eye On

As the Green Bay Packers look to play their final two preseason games on the road, Robert Tonyan and Kendall Donnerson are two players battling for potential roster spots.

The true underdog story has always held a strong grip on sports fans.  Whether it is the story of an underdog team or individual, witnessing a person or team rise among the ranks to stardom always captivates viewers and fans alike.  For the fans of the Green Bay Packers, these stories are no different.  Undrafted free agents, castaways from other teams and long shot seventh-round draft picks making the team always hold a special place in the heart of Packers fans. 

Without looking too far back in the annals of Packers history, names like Ed West, John Jurkovich, John Kuhn and Tramon Williams come to mind when thinking about the long shots to making a team and later finding great success in their careers wearing the green and gold.  Late round flyers like Mark Tauscher and Donald Driver also molded very successful careers with the Packers when many other teams weren’t willing to give them a chance.

As training camp and the preseason games have progressed so far in 2018, the positional battles have really heated up and it is clear that GM Brian Gutekunst will have some tough decisions to make when the time comes to assemble the final 53-man roster.  As with any year on any team, Gutekunst must weight his options on those close positional battles when looking at who can make an impact now versus who has a high ceiling for the future of the franchise.  If one common theme can be found in Gutekunst’s approach to assembling a roster, it is pure athleticism.  In no two players is that more evident in than tight end Robert Tonyan and outside linebacker Kendall Donnerson.

Robert Tonyan

With the free agent signings of Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis, it was clear that Gutekunst and the Packers staff will be placing a high priority on the tight end position moving forward.  Aaron Rodgers has seen great success during his career when he’s worked with a solid tight end and the new playbook heading into 2018 may feature the position more. 

Tonyan joined the Packers practice squad last December after spending the 2017 training camp with the Lions before being cut prior to the regular season.  After not joining any practice squad last season, the Packers saw the athletic abilities of the newly converted tight end and brought him aboard.  Having been recruited as a quarterback out of high school and converting to wide receiver in college, Tonyan is going through his second NFL training camp at a new position and is as raw as they come at the tight end position.

But even under the circumstances of still learning a new position, Tonyan continues to make plays during practice and those plays have started to carry over into the preseason action.  After just one catch for ten yards against the Titans, Tonyan recorded three receptions for 20 yards and a touchdown last week against the Steelers.  Just two plays after drawing a pass interference penalty on a fade route in the end zone, and subsequent taunting of the defensive player by pointing out the flag on the field, Tonyan hauled in a touchdown on a contested fade route ball from DeShone Kizer.

While his arrow is definitely pointing up, Tonyan faces an uphill battle with the talent that sits in front of him on the Packers roster at the tight end position.  With Graham and Lewis being locked to make the final roster, Lance Kendricks is still a potential playmaker to take a third roster spot.  As well, Emanuel Byrd has shown signs of being a playmaker at the position. 

How the tight end position is assembled at final cuts remains to be seen and it is clear that the talent behind the top two at the position will make Gutekunst’s decisions difficult.  How the Packers handle the wide receiver and fullback groups will have an impact on the number of tight ends making the final roster as well.  From the little seen so far of Tonyan, keep an eye on #85 as the team travels to Oakland and Kansas City for more playmaking ability.

Kendall Donnerson

After Packers fans clamored all offseason about adding outside linebackers to help their pass rush, many fans were left disappointed after the draft and free agency when all remained relatively quiet on the EDGE rusher front.  The projected selections of the likes of Harold Landry and Marcus Davenport came and went as the draft progressed and the Packers spent their final selection of the draft on a little-known EDGE rusher from Southeast Missouri State named Kendall Donnerson.

In keeping with his philosophy of drafting athletically gifted players, Gutekunst nabbed an athletic freak in Donnerson in the seventh round.  With a relative athletic score that was off the charts at 9.98, the third highest of the entire 2018 draft class, Donnerson came to the Packers as a raw candidate to make the team with all of the size, speed and power numbers you could want in an outside linebacker.  But given his completely raw nature upon entering the NFL, the big question with Donnerson is if the athletic abilities can translate to this level. 

Through the first two preseason games, Donnerson has only seen a total of 20 snaps.  After a great forced fumble play against the Titans late in the game where he dove inside to strip the ball carrier, I’m left with wanting to see more of #91 in the final two preseason games.  When looking at the current depth chart of the outside linebacker group of the Packers, a player with Donnerson’s upside needs to be given the chances to show what he has in these final two games.  Behind Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, and Reggie Gilbert, a lot of questions remain for players like Kyler Fackrell, Vince Biegel and Chris Odom.  With a potential spot on the roster or the practice squad holding his name, we’ll only know where Donnerson stands by seeing more action from him in the final two preseason matchups. 

________________________

Ryan Brunner is an avid Packers fan hailing from Chippewa Falls, WI.  He is a firm believer that punters are NFL players too!  Follow him on Twitter @brunwardo

NFL Categories: 
0 points

Comments (21)

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

August 21, 2018 at 07:05 pm

I like Tonyan and Donnerson too. They are big boys and they play like it

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
EdsLaces's picture

August 21, 2018 at 07:20 pm

I did not know Donnerson was such a physical freak . Color me intrigued.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Lare's picture

August 21, 2018 at 07:29 pm

Tonyan has shown more in his time with the Packers than Kendricks has, he should definitely be in consideration for the final 53.

Donnerson seems to have the physical tools to be an NFL player, but I think he just needs a year on the practice squad and in the training program to show his true potential.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Samson's picture

August 21, 2018 at 07:53 pm

I agree. --- Neither may have a great impact on season 2018 but both look better than some now predicted to be on the final 53. --- It's always good to improve your depth in one way or another.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Bert's picture

August 21, 2018 at 08:55 pm

I dunno about the PS. Heck, Beigel and Fackrell have shown next to nothing. If Donnelson actually has an upside then keep him around (maybe special teams?) and let either one or both of the other two go.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Graham Crackah's picture

August 21, 2018 at 09:56 pm

Ultimately, if Donnerson shows more than Fackrell and Biegel in preseason...does Donnerson make it? Or what do we think he needs to do to make it on the 53? He seems to have more upside than both...albeit raw.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Coldworld's picture

August 22, 2018 at 05:22 am

My preference would be to keep Donaldson on the roster and use him in passing situations as a pure rusher initially. One can’t manufacture his ability to get through the line. I would then keep one of Beigel or Fackrell—whoever they believe is more effective and assignment sure. Two no threat ST players is too many for this position.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
mnklitzke's picture

August 22, 2018 at 09:19 am

Why keep Kendricks when you have Jimmy and Lewis. Keep the young guy with tons of upside. Kendricks did next to nothing last year when he was the man....

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

August 22, 2018 at 11:21 am

Tucking Donnerson on the PS would be great, but with his ascending play, another team could easily grab him for potential and special teams gunning.

I wouldn't risk him. Fackrell has shown so little potential, and Biegel is starting to make a cynic of me as well.

Keep Donnerson. Develop him on the 53. Cut someone else.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
carlos's picture

August 22, 2018 at 06:18 pm

Oh Lare, finally someone who agrees with me. Don’t hate Kendrick’s, just not a huge supporter. I didn’t see a huge upgrade last year with him. I remember some of his drops more than anything. I like these two young guys. Can save some cap room by signing some young guys who are loaded with potential.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Coldworld's picture

August 22, 2018 at 10:30 pm

Kendrick’s is more of a catch and run type than the others. I think he has looked good at times in pre season in that role. Becoming more in favor of him being kept. Tonyan is a dark horse, but Perhaps we could keep 4 TEs and maybe less LBs as both fit ST well

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Samson's picture

August 21, 2018 at 08:04 pm

"Ryan Brunner is an avid Packers fan hailing from Chippewa Falls, WI. He is a firm believer that punters are NFL players too!"

This is a bit comical because I've known some dudes who could consistently punt the ball 50+ yards and another guy who made 50+ yard FGs well into his 40's and probably could still do it. --- All they ever wanted to do was watch the games on Sunday.

Punters are NFL players too. -- I'll give you Ray Guy, only.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Coldworld's picture

August 22, 2018 at 10:32 pm

:) maybe that fellow we drafted will be the second?

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Razer's picture

August 22, 2018 at 07:52 am

I was interested in how Gutekunst would handle the draft and I think he did very well. Definitely a change from Ted Thompson. The next difference maker will be in how he handles the cutdowns and who he retains. Fashioning the roster to win today but with an eye on tomorrow is a difficult line to walk. His choices will tell a lot about a change in approach.

Beyond the training camp cuts, I am wondering if our GM will look to fill in any of the current holes. Thompson left a hole at safety the size of Chicago that may again handicap this defense.

The next three weeks will be interesting.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
PatrickGB's picture

August 22, 2018 at 11:07 am

Interesting thoughts, thanks for the article. Donnerson could be another Elliott, or not. We don’t know yet. And can he be trusted in a game to not do something stupid like an unsportsmanlike penalty at a key moment? I think it was him that did that last week.
As far as the TE battle, Tonyan is still making the transition but as a former QB he has good field and route awareness that combines with his innate skills. But can he block and become an Hback like Kendricks? I don’t think so, not this year anyway.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
jww061356's picture

August 22, 2018 at 10:39 pm

If Donnerson gets an opportunity to play and flashes, I think its time to end the Fackerell experiment. He'sgiven us nothing to this point. Discipline can be instilled in a player, natural freakish athletic ability cannot.
I don't know too much about Tonyan other than what I've read here, but i question the value of Kendricks. I just don't know if he makes a difference, and if he doesn't, why not a Tonyan or a Byrd? From what little I've read about Tonyan, Mercedes Lewis has taken him under his wing. Might not be the worst idea to develop him into a crushing blocker while learning to be a playmaking downfield threat.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Oppy's picture

August 22, 2018 at 11:17 pm

I'm more concerned about Beigel at this point than Fackrell.
And I don't think Fackrell is going to get much better.
That's saying something.. I think it was Dobber who said it just doesn't look like Beigel is capable of being NFL-physical, and I tend to agree.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
RobinsonDavis's picture

August 24, 2018 at 01:51 pm

I agree about your concern with Biegel, Dobber. I still think we need to give him one more year, but again, performance counts. Saw him in position twice to make big plays last week, then he let-up or looked indecisive...wonder what that's about?

Also sorry I was not able to respond last week to your in-kind response. Had half a college hockey team staying with me for a wedding, then immediately on the road for work.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
HankScorpio's picture

August 23, 2018 at 07:24 am

The companion discussion about dark horses to make the team are the veterans whose job they take. There is a fairly big pool of candidates there, IMO. Demetri Goodson, Kyler Fackrell, Aaron Ripkowski, Trevor Davis, Quentin Rollins, Brett Hundley and Lance Kendricks pull right out without too much fuss or muss.

It certainly helps a dark horse candidate if one of those roster bubble vets play in the same positional group but that's not a requirement. There is a certain amount of flexibility in positional group breakdown on the roster. So a guy like Jake Kumerow can take Demetri Goodson's roster spot easily enough, for example.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
4thand1's picture

August 23, 2018 at 08:00 am

I hope Hundley knocks it out of the park in these last 2 games and we get a draft pick for him. Free up a roster spot and we'll have Kizer to fill in nicely. Either way this team is AR's and it's only chance for a title right now. Between Tonyan, Kendricks and Byrd, we have 3 guys who are pretty good for a 3rd TE. After the Raiders game it should become more clear where the Pack goes with these 3. Donnerson is really a dark horse, practice squad.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
DraftHobbyist's picture

August 23, 2018 at 08:05 am

I actually still have to read this article, but one thing I have to say about looking for Dark Horses is don't underestimate second year guys. Those are the guys that the Packers know more about, have had a year of learning routine, know the playbook, some growth, etc. Emanuel Byrd is a good example of this.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0

Log in to comment and more!

Not a member yet? Join free.

If you have already commented on Cheesehead TV in the past, we've created an account for you. Just verify your email, set a password and you're golden.