1 Question Facing Each Green Bay Packers Player: Tight Ends

Green Bay Packers tight end Josiah Deguara (81) gains yardage against the Minnesota Vikings during their football game Sunday, September 13, 2020, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn.Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-WisconsinDeguara Dan Powers
Green Bay Packers tight end Josiah Deguara (81) gains yardage against the Minnesota Vikings during their football game Sunday, September 13, 2020, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn.Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-WisconsinDeguara Dan Powers /

I am on a mission to discuss the one big question facing each member of this Green Bay Packers team prior to training camp beginning. I’ve already gone through the quarterbacks and the running backs, so next up, we will be moving on to the tight ends.

Robert Tonyan: Can Big Bob have another big season?

It’s unlikely that Robert Tonyan is going to recreate his 2020 season from an efficiency standpoint because it was just so incredible. According to PFF ($$), and including the playoffs, Tonyan caught 60 of his 66 targets last season for a 90.9 percent completion rate. He would also find the end zone 12 times, with 11 of those touchdowns coming during the regular season–again, another figure that is going to be difficult to duplicate.

Tonyan was a favorite target of Aaron Rodgers’ last season, particularly off of play-action in short-yardage situations as well as in the red zone. However, as good and as effective as Tonyan was in 2020, according to Matt LaFleur, they would like to “feature” him more this season:

"“I know he had a really good season last year, and I think there’s still more there for him,” LaFleur told reporters via Packers Wire. “I think he’s still learning the position and continues to get better and better, but I love his attitude, I love his work ethic, and I think he’s really confident right now.“Right now is just a great time for us to experiment with him on different routes, so hopefully, we can feature him a little bit more in our offense next season.”"

The tight end plays a much more important role in the LaFleur offense than what it did under Mike McCarthy, and Tonyan has benefited from the tight end friendly system. While he may not catch 90 percent of his targets again or find the end zone 12 times, for the Green Bay Packers to be at their best, they’ll need another big year from big Bob.

Jace Sternberger: Can Sternberger take that step forward in Year 3?

The transition from college to the NFL level at the tight end position is oftentimes one that takes two or three years for a player to fully make and find consistent success in, given the difficulty of the position. Sternberger also hasn’t been helped by the fact that he’s had to deal with injuries that have kept him sidelined.

He’s been efficient over his career, catching nearly 79 percent of his targets, but he’s been thrown to just 19 times. Sternberger also has two touchdowns and averages 8.2 yards per catch.

While he needs to continue developing as a blocker, he’s shown that he’s willing and that he also has the versatility to move around the formation—a plus in the Matt LaFleur offense.

However, it ultimately comes down to availability and production, two things that we haven’t seen from Sternberger yet. Now entering his third NFL season, this will be a massive year for him, and it all begins with showing how much he has progressed during training camp and the preseason.

Josiah Deguara: How big of an impact can he have on the offense?

We saw very little of Josiah Deguara last year before he suffered his season-ending injury, but Week 1 against Minnesota was a prime example of what we can expect from him in this offense.

His versatility was on display as he was moved around the formation, and he made a few key blocks as well. And although he wasn’t targeted heavily in the passing game, there were a few designed plays for him.

The selection of Deguara was scrutinized, but as an H-back, he fills an important role within the LaFleur offense and helps achieve that “illusion of complexity.” Now fully healthy, I’m very interested in seeing the type of impact he can have on this offense over the course of the season.

Marcedes Lewis: how long can Big Dog continue playing at a high level?

Marcedes Lewis has a very defined and important role in this LaFleur offense as basically a sixth offensive lineman with his blocking ability—although we’ve seen him score a few touchdowns as well.

Among all qualified tight ends, Lewis has finished with a top-10 run-blocking grade each of these last two seasons, according to PFF ($$). He was also a top-15 pass-blocker in 2020. However, at 37-years-old and entering his 16th NFL season, it’s fair to wonder how much gas he has left in the tank.

Dominique Dafney: What do the Green Bay Packers have in him?

With no Deguara, Dominique Dafney stepped in to help fill a similar role over the second half of the season, and he impressed when given the opportunity. He caught both of his targets for 26 yards with a touchdown, and he had shown that he was a capable run and pass blocker as well.

With that said, it was a very small sample size, with Dafney being on the field for just 105 total offensive snaps. While he’s certainly an intriguing player entering training camp, there’s also still plenty of unknowns about him.

Bronson Kaufusi: how does he handle the move to TE?

Bronson Kaufusi was a former third-round pick in 2016 out of BYU by the Baltimore Ravens—but that was as a defensive end, not a tight end. From 2017 to 2019, he recorded half a sack, eight tackles, and two quarterback hits.

He began the position change last summer with the New York Jets, but as I mentioned above, this is a tough transition to make, given that tight ends are expected to block like a lineman and be a proficient pass-catcher like a receiver.

Not that Kaufusi will become Tonyan, but for example, it took him several years to fully breakout, and that was as a former receiver, not a defensive end. We are still waiting on Sternberger to do the same.

Isaac Nauta: Can he become a reliable blocking tight end?

This is a well-put-together tight end unit that the Green Bay Packers have, but Lewis is the only true traditional Y-tight end that will be on the final roster. And as we already discussed, he is nearing the end of his career, leaving an important role to fill.

Coming out of Georgia in 2019 as a seventh-round pick, Nauta was known more for his blocking ability than what he could offer as a pass-catcher. Kyle Crabbs of The Draft Network called him a “blocking ace” in his pre-draft report, and in a limited sample size, we’ve seen that on display in the NFL.

Nauta has graded out very well as a pass-blocker, per PFF, and if he can continue to develop and showcase those blocking abilities, perhaps he can carve out a defined role in this offense in the coming years.