Packers: Deguara & Dafney will have to step up in Tonyan’s absence

Aug 28, 2021; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Green Bay Packers tight end Josiah Deguara (81) warms up prior to the game against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 28, 2021; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Green Bay Packers tight end Josiah Deguara (81) warms up prior to the game against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports /

The Green Bay Packers came away with the win in Arizona, but they lost tight end Robert Tonyan for the season. Tonyan would leave the game in the second half with a knee injury following a 33-yard reception. We learned today from Tonyan’s agent, Jack Betcha, that he did in fact tear his ACL.

"“He means so much to this team,” said Matt LaFleur following the Packers win in Arizona. “It’s so cool, I just told him, to watch a guy when you first get here and see the amount of progress that he’s made as a player and the work that he puts in on a daily basis. It’s really cool when you see that progress and you see a guy reach their potential. And I still think there’s more out there for him."

After an 11 touchdown performance a season ago, 2021 began a bit slowly for Tonyan, however, he was coming off his best game of the season against Washington and had three receptions for 49 yards in Arizona prior to his injury.

But as tight ends coach Justin Outten highlighted recently, while it’s been a quieter start to the season for Tonyan statistically, he’s been a major contributor when it comes to helping the Green Bay Packers win games.

"“The responsibility he has on his plate, whether it’s a chip or a run block or he’s going out in a route, he takes pride in it,” said Outten via “I’m just proud of his process and sticking with everything that’s asked of him. I’m just excited to see the whole picture coming into play here. One-trick ponies in this league – if you’re a pass-catcher and that’s all you do – it doesn’t really survive in this system. You gotta have the grit and the grit and the smarts and toughness and resilience and you gotta also have the right mindset."

From a pure blocking perspective — an important aspect of the LaFleur offense — the Packers are better equipped to handle Tonyan’s absence — although he will certainly still be missed — with the likes of Dominique Dafney, Josiah Deguara, and Marcedes Lewis—all very capable blockers, and in Lewis’ case, an exceptional one.

But Tonyan’s ability as a pass-catcher and the attention that he draws from opposing defenses will be difficult to duplicate and will now fall on the shoulders of Deguara and Dafney, who have just eight combined targets over their short NFL careers.

While at Cincinnati, Deguara had 92 receptions over his college career, tallying 1,117 yards and 12 touchdowns. During Dafney’s final year at Indiana State, he had seven receptions for 69 yards and he also carried the ball 27 times for 134 yards.

Deguara and Dafney bring versatility to this Packers’ offense, filling the all-important H-back role where they assume blocking duties, are sent in motion, and used as pass-catchers as well, lining up all over the formation.

However, while they’ve primarily been utilized as blockers and motion-men, their roles in the passing game are going to increase drastically in Tonyan’s absence.

Tonyan currently ranks tied for 17th in total targets among tight ends—however his eight targets over the last two games are tied for the third-most during that span, according to PFF ($$).

Now, this isn’t to say that we won’t also see Lewis; after all, he does already have more receiving yards this season than what he did in all of 2020, but his primary responsibility will still be as the traditional Y-tight end. Allen Lazard could see more opportunities as a result as well.

There’s also the possibility that the Green Bay Packers could look to add a tight end before the trade deadline on November 2nd. A popular name being floated around by many is Evan Engram of the New York Giants—although there is certainly no guarantee that this move happens either.

So for the time being, it would appear that Green Bay will roll with the tight ends that they have on the roster and that means seeing much more of Deguara and Dafney in the passing game moving forward.