Amid a flurry of offseason speculation, one of the Green Bay Packers’ untapped superstars has lurked beneath the radar: big-hitting, fun-loving tight end Robert “Bobby” Tonyan Jr. After a breakout season in 2020, Tonyan’s 2021 campaign was cut short by an ACL tear in Week 8 against the Arizona Cardinals.
The Aaron Rodgers saga and some injury woes have resulted in back-burner press for Tonyan as he enters his first year of free agency. Don’t let that downplay his importance to the Pack, especially now.
Tonyan is one of a handful of Packers free agents who have an uncertain future in Titletown. Cap space is limited, and Tonyan’s 2021 campaign was far from the clinic he put on in 2020.
After racking up 568 yards on 52 catches (59 targets) with 11 touchdowns in 2020, Tonyan tallied a meager 204 yards and two scores in 2021. The Indiana State alum’s catch percentage dropped from 88.1% in 2020 to just 62.1% in 2021, numbers that don’t necessarily scream franchise tight end.
Numbers don’t lie. But neither do circumstances, and Tonyan’s dip in 2021 wasn’t solely his fault.
In 2020, Green Bay had the luxury of a healthy offensive line for most of the season. That allowed the third-year pro Tonyan to get downfield because he was less focused on blocking and protecting Rodgers.
But last year, starters Josh Myers, Elgton Jenkins, and Green Bay legend David Bakhtiari were all out for chunks of the 2021 season. Teams expect even the best pass-catching tight ends to block, and Tonyan did just that.
However, that doesn’t make up for his low pass-catching percentage, the lowest of his four-year career. Still, injuries are out of a player’s control. Who’s to say that Tonyan wouldn’t have lit it up given the opportunity to play nine more games?
Tonyan’s value stacks up well against the rest of Green Bay’s tight end core. He’s an elite pass catcher and adequate blocker. Veteran Marcedes Lewis has proven to be an excellent blocker. However, he lacks speed and receiver-like traits as he prepares to enter his 13th season. Josiah Deguara will be entering his third NFL season in 2022 and is arguably a stronger blocker than Tonyan. Still, Tonyan’s potential receiving capability is meaningfully higher than Deguara’s.
Green Bay has league-wide stars at every other talent position. Therefore, it makes the case for extending Tonyan attractive. He would be the final puzzle piece. And that some of those stars may not be in Green Bay next season makes it essential.
Despite the recent announcement that Rodgers’ favorite coach, Tom Clements, will be rejoining the team, there is no guarantee that No. 12 will be back in Green Bay. Chances are elite wideout Davante Adams will leave if Rodgers does.
If that scenario plays out, the Packers will need a Swiss Army knife-like Tonyan to protect a new quarterback while providing a threat down the field. If Rodgers and Adams stay, Tonyan could cement himself as the Travis Kelce to Patrick Mahomes and Rob Gronkowski to Tom Brady for Rodgers.
While we can assume that Tonyan and his camp will be asking for more money this offseason, the fact that he spent a hefty chunk of 2021 on the sideline could lower his price.
The noise that Tonyan made in 2020 turned heads across the league. If George Kittle, Travis Kelce, and Mark Andrews are on the island of tight end elites, Tonyan is on the shore in his boat. The 27-year-old has a tremendous upside and could prove to be not only valuable but a necessity in years to come.