Packers needing more impact in pass game from tight ends

Green Bay Packers tight end Robert Tonyan (85) runs after a catch during the first half of their game on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.Packers Jets 0287
Green Bay Packers tight end Robert Tonyan (85) runs after a catch during the first half of their game on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.Packers Jets 0287 /

Tight end was a position with question marks before the season began for the Green Bay Packers, and unfortunately, at least in the passing game, it’s a group that hasn’t been able to provide any sort of spark in that capacity.

Robert Tonyan has still remained incredibly reliable, catching 82% of his 55 targets this season, along with still being a favorite target of Aaron Rodgers’ — both of which are very important — but he’s averaging only 8.3 yards per catch and has just one touchdown–a far cry from the 11.3 yards per catch and 12 touchdowns he had in 2020.

In part, Tonyan’s production is a product of how the Packers have utilized him. With a lot of movement and unknowns along the offensive line for much of the season, Tonyan — and the other tight ends — have been asked to stay in and block, or at the very minimum chip, quite often, which means getting into his route later. As a result, Tonyan’s average depth of target this season, according to PFF ($$), is only 5.6 yards.

While how he is being utilized is, of course, a major factor in his production, Tonyan was never overly dynamic with the ball in his hands, but as he continues to work his way back from his ACL injury, he still appears to be trying to regain his previous explosiveness, oftentimes being tackled by the first defender he meets.

When it comes to Marcedes Lewis, Josiah Deguara, and Tyler Davis, all three have primarily been used as blockers. Lewis is often like a sixth offensive lineman, while Deguara and Davis are both seeing fewer than 15 snaps per game. Combined, the trio has 22 targets this season over 13 games.

Deguara is someone I would like to see have more opportunities in these final weeks. There’s the added versatility that he brings as an H-back that can benefit the offense, but he’s shown to be a reliable pass-catcher and capable of making some plays with the ball in his hands.

There’s a reason why the Packers were linked to Darren Waller over the offseason and prior to the trade deadline, along with a report from ESPN saying that they were looking at the tight end position in general. They need playmaking at the position, and unfortunately, the outlook of the position isn’t going to get any better in 2023.

As of now, Josiah Deguara is the only tight end under contract beyond this season. The Packers may have to turn to free agency, but it’s not as if they are going to have a ton of available cap space. Spending an early-round pick on the position feels like a must and is something that should have been done during the 2021 or 2022 draft. It’s also important to note that because of the complexity of the tight end position — having to be both a blocker and pass catcher — it’s very rare for rookie tight ends to make a significant impact.

With that said, we shouldn’t overlook the contributions that these tight ends have brought as blockers to this Packers’ offense because that is a very important element, especially in Matt LaFleur’s system. However, in today’s NFL, teams need legitimate pass-catching threats at the position, and this group has had little impact in the passing game.