Green Bay Packers: Increased role for Robert Tonyan in 2019

SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 15: Robert Tonyan #85 of the Green Bay Packers celebrates a second quarter touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on November 15, 2018 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 15: Robert Tonyan #85 of the Green Bay Packers celebrates a second quarter touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on November 15, 2018 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) /

With more focus on the tight ends in the Green Bay Packers’ offense, we should expect to see more Robert Tonyan in 2019.

For a number of seasons now the Green Bay Packers have mired in mediocrity at the tight end position. Whether that’s been due to poor play, the offensive system or a little bit of both, Green Bay has struggled to find consistent production at the position.

Like they had done in previous offseasons, in 2018 the Green Bay Packers hoped that dabbling in free agency would solve the issue as they would bring in veterans Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis.

However, neither player performed as well as hoped for but in their defense, Graham’s season wasn’t nearly as bad as most make it out to be, he just wasn’t the red zone threat that we expected and Lewis didn’t see the field a ton.

Now looking ahead to the new season, under head coach Matt LaFleur, the tight end position is expected to play a much more significant role in the offense both as a pass-catcher and as a blocker.

While Robert Tonyan was limited last season by playing only 67 total snaps, he did catch four out of the six passes thrown his way and was able to show off his playmaking ability with a 54-yard touchdown grab against Seattle.

When it comes to being an inline blocker, Tonyan’s skill set is still a bit raw as a former college receiver. To truly flourish at tight end in LaFleur’s system, you need to be reliable in that area. And while we’ve seen how dynamic he can be as a receiver, his route running can become more crisp as well.

A sign that Tonyan will take a big step forward this season came with the work and who he worked out with over the offseason. Tonyan spent a portion of the offseason working out with San Francisco 49ers’ tight end George Kittle and in addition to training, Tonyan was able to pick Kittle’s brain about the tight end position.

Although it remains to be seen how that will translate in pads and on the field, Kittle has done very well under head coach Kyle Shanahan, who has a very similar offense to LaFleur. Now, by no means am I implying that Tonyan will have the same rise as Kittle, but the two working out together surely doesn’t hurt.

With Training Camp just a few weeks away, Tonyan’s goal will be to carve a bigger role for himself in this new offense. And although I can’t envision Graham not being the first tight end, if Tonyan can show improvements, he can take away snaps from the veterans in front of him as well as stay ahead of rookie Jace Sternberger on the depth chart.

Heading into this season I fully expect Graham to bounce back, but he isn’t the same player that he once was athletically and Tonyan could give this offense a bit more explosiveness if he can prove to be reliable.

When it comes to Lewis, he has been known as a blocker for much of his career but even in the limited opportunities he did receive last season, he struggled in that aspect of the game. According to Pro Football Focus, Lewis would receive the worst pass blocking grade of his career and his third-lowest grade as a run blocker. If Lewis continues to struggle in 2019, the much more athletic and dynamic Tonyan could benefit with more snaps.

The last tight end that will likely make the roster is Jace Sternberger. While we hope he will be a long-term solution to the position, most rookie tight ends don’t see much playing time that first season.

Over the past 15 years, only two rookie tight ends have had more than 600 receiving yards that first season. Outside of quarterback, rookie tight ends may have the steepest learning curve as they have to learn blocking schemes and techniques like an offensive lineman, while also being able to run precise routes and diverse route trees as a receiver would. So realistically, Sternberger may not have a huge impact this season.

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Tonyan has the physical tools but has had to refine his technique as a tight end, both as a blocker and a receiver. But it would appear that he’s put in the work this offseason and if we can see tangible results on the field, given the new offense as well as the other players in the tight end’s room, he could play a much larger role in 2019.