Davante Adams‘ absence will dramatically affect the 2022 Green Bay Packers. Adams accounted for a majority of the team’s receiving yards during his tenure. Aaron Rodgers has developed tunnel vision over the last few years to get the ball to his favorite receiver.
An argument could be made that Rodgers’ hyper-fixation on Adams was a key contributor to some of Green Bay’s recent playoff woes. Barring an unexpected emergence, there will be no true No. 1 receiver to command that attention this year. The onus will fall on Rodgers and the creativity of the offensive coaching staff to make the most out of the playmakers who remain. Rodgers is at his best when he is spreading the ball around, so there is a chance that this could be a welcome change of pace.
General manager Brian Gutekunst has done everything he can to acquire free-agent help. Sammy Watkins is nice, but his addition alone will not meaningfully improve this group of pass-catchers. Pressure will mount for the incumbent players to pick up the slack.
Tight-end production will become a particular point of emphasis this season. There is obvious urgency surrounding whether or not third-round pick Josiah Deguara can live up to his lofty draft status, pending his return from yet another injury. Big Dog Marcedes Lewis, 38, has been great in limited action, though his age caps his ability to impact the game consistently.
Therefore, fans expect Robert Tonyan to step up as a key offensive contributor this season. His impact was most felt in the 2020 season when he had 52 catches, 586 receiving yards, and 11 touchdowns. The 2021 season was a bit of a dud, to put it mildly. He only amassed 204 yards in eight games before tearing his ACL and missing the rest of the year. After the hype following 2020, Tonyan’s production was a massive letdown. Green Bay was able to re-sign him in free agency following that year, but Tonyan has yet to deliver on the promise of being the next great Packers tight end.
At this junction, it is fair to wonder whether that 2020 season may have been an outlier. Tonyan will be entering his fifth season in the league, and his 204 receiving yards last season are his highest single-season total next to 2020. Tonyan had a total of 177 receiving yards in 27 games during the 2018 and ’19 seasons. He was still further down on the depth chart then, but being behind an inefficient and ineffective Jimmy Graham for those seasons isn’t much of a confidence booster.
Lofty expectations are good and all, but it may be healthy to pump the brakes on expecting Tonyan to have as much of an impact as he did in 2020. That is compounded by the fact that he will be returning from his ACL injury. With his massive 6’5” frame, it remains to be seen how this will affect his mobility once the rehab process concludes. In modern sports, players are returning from these devastating injuries in great form, but that is certainly never a guarantee.
Of course, the effectiveness of a tight end isn’t exclusively capped by their receiving chops. Tonyan made the team those down years in 2018-19 because of his ability to effectively block at the line of scrimmage. Green Bay’s other tight ends cannot be consistently relied upon to do that (Lewis’ age, Deguara’s inexperience), so the opportunity will be there for Tonyan to have as much playing time as he wants. Increased availability will undoubtedly lead to more opportunities to catch the ball, and that will be sorely needed this season as Rodgers sorts out who his go-to guys are.
It bears repeating just how good Tonyan’s 2020 was, though. Tonyan was a beneficiary of the fabled Green Bay pass-catcher third-year breakout. He didn’t have a single drop that entire season, and this alone led to many public endorsements of his talent from Rodgers. Generally, players who get the Rodgers
Rate endorsement have fared well within Green Bay’s offense. As of now, there is nothing to suggest that Tonyan isn’t still in Rodgers’ favor, thus leaving plenty of opportunities to prove himself.
Rodgers has had a tried-and-true red-zone threat for nearly every season of his career. It has been Adams for a while, and it was Jordy Nelson before that. Those two players showcased consistency and reliability just about everywhere on the field. Tonyan has a real opportunity to step into that role if he is ready for training camp and opening day. It will be up to him to prove his breakout season was not an outlier, so he should be hungry to reclaim that top spot on Rodgers’ list of trusted receivers.