Green Bay Packers: In appreciation of Robert Tonyan

Green Bay Packers, Robert Tonyan (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Green Bay Packers, Robert Tonyan (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

The Packers outperformed expectations on their way to the number one seed in the NFC. But perhaps no individual did more so than Robert Tonyan.

When discussing the Green Bay Packers‘ destructive air attack, the Aaron Rodgers-Davante Adams connection gets most of the attention, and for good reason.

Rodgers set a franchise record with 48 passing touchdowns this past season and Adams posted arguably the greatest overall season by a Green Bay receiver – 1,374 yards, 18 touchdowns – while appearing in only 14 games (though it should be noted that he accomplished this task in functionally 13 games, as he left early in the Packers’ Week 2 win against the Detroit Lions with an injury).

However, another of Rodgers’ targets had quietly the best season at his position in franchise history: tight end Robert Tonyan.

Few expected the kind of season Tonyan produced in 2020 when he was signed off the Detroit Lions practice squad late in the 2017 season. The former undrafted free agent out of Indiana State did not appear in an NFL game until his second season and came into the season with 14 catches, 177 yards, and two touchdowns to his name, accumulated across 27 games.

But Tonyan quickly emerged as one of Rodgers’ most reliable and leaned upon pass catchers, particularly in the red zone. His 11 receiving touchdowns this season represent a Packers’ single-season Super Bowl era record for a tight end – tying him with Paul Coffman who also grabbed 11 during the 1983 season – and he became the first Packer tight end with double-digit receiving touchdowns in a season since Keith Jackson (10) in 1996.

Nothing Tonyan does is flashy and he isn’t without his warts – he checks in as PFF’s 26th ranked tight end in large part due to his poor blocking metrics – but his presence gives the Packers two consistent pass-catching weapons. Opposing defenses have to lock-in on him and Adams, which frees up space for the likes of Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Allen Lazard downfield and Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams out of the backfield.

One of the biggest critiques thrown at Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst over the past 12 months – myself included – was the team’s decision to not pursue more receiving weapons to add to Rodgers’ arsenal.

However, is it possible that this decision was made due to the team’s confidence in Tonyan’s ability to perform game after game? It’s difficult to say with any amount of certainty – particularly since I don’t have any sources with direct knowledge of Gutekunst’s and the front office’s thinking – but Tonyan’s breakout season without a doubt dampened the need for the Packers to be aggressive in the trade market.

Tonyan figures to be one of the focal points of the Packers’ offense as they seek to bring the Lombardi Trophy back to Green Bay for the fifth time. Not bad for a former college quarterback turned All-Pro snub tight end.

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