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Big Bob Breaks Out, Big Time

Robert Tonyan’s superb statistical line against the Falcons – six catches in six targets, for 98 yards and three touchdowns – might seem like it came out of nowhere. Actually though, it’s been in the works for several years. His performance on Monday was no one-game aberration. Big Bob, who has been a part of the Packers organization ever since 2017, signaled that he’s arrived as one of the league’s new breed of talented and acrobatic tight end receivers.

A product of the nation’s heartland, Tonyan was a star quarterback for his high school team in Illinois. Upon graduation, he enrolled at Indiana State, a member of the Missouri Valley, and located in Terre Haute, Indiana. Tonyan spent five years with the Sycamores, including being red-shirted in his first season. In his second year, he started three games at quarterback, though he completed only 35 out of 103 of his passes.

Tonyan switched over to tight end for his final three years of college. As a fifth-year senior, he had 56 catches for 699 yards, and a school-record ten touchdowns. Even so, the only honor he received as a collegian was being named honorable mention to the all-conference team as a junior. Not surprisingly, Big Bob went overlooked during the 2017 draft.

Following the 2017 draft, the Detroit Lions took two unusual steps: they signed him to a 3-year contract for $1.66 million – but then they released him before the season began. The Packers weren’t overeager either, finally adding him to the practice squad for the final four games of 2017.

In 2018, Tonyan managed to start one game for Green Bay; on the year he had four catches for 77 yards and a touchdown. In 2019, he upped his production to ten catches, for 100 yards and another touchdown.

 

Packers TE Robert Tonyan

Oct 5, 2020; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Green Bay Packers tight end Robert Tonyan (85) is surrounded by teammates after scoring a touchdown during the third quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at Lambeau Field. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

 

Touchdown Bob

How much of a breakout star has Big Bob been this season? Through Week 4, His five receiving touchdowns are tied for league high with Tampa Bay wide receiver Mike Evans, and he has the most TDs among league tight ends; by comparison, Mark Andrews (BAL) has four, three others (including Jimmy Graham) have three, Travis Kelce (KC) has two, and big names like Eric Ebron (PIT), Zach Ertz (PHI), Jared Cook (NO), Greg Olsen (SEA), Jason Witten (LVR), and George Kittle (SF) have but one touchdown each.

Jermichael Finley had one season in which he caught more than five TD passes. Kittle’s best is also five TDs. In three years in Green Bay, Graham’s best was three. Aaron Rodgers has a potent new weapon at his disposal when he nears or reaches the red zone.

Speaking of Kittle, Tonyan trained with the Niners’ All-Pro tight end during the recent offseason. Though Tonyan has gotten off to a slower career start than Kittle (both are 26), he made up for a lot of lost time on Monday night.

The New Tight End Prototype

For the past decade, the league’s top tight ends were huge guys, most notably Rob Gronkowski (6’6” and 265#) and Jimmy Graham (6’7” and 260#). Now that tight ends are coveted more for their pass-catching artistry than their blocking ability, a new body type has emerged, with the ideal being about 6’5”, weighing around 240 pounds, and having very good speed and agility.

Tonyan fits that description perfectly. Broadcasters for the Monday night game mentioned that Green Bay wanted Big Bob to drop some weight for the 2020 season. I hadn’t heard that before, but Bob, who came out of college at 6’4” and 250 pounds, showed up at training camp this spring at 6’5” and 237 pounds. He looked fast, rangy, and nimble – and still plenty large and broad-shouldered – as he shredded the Falcon’s pass defense on Monday. And he did his damage on Monday night while getting only two-thirds of the offensive snaps.

Tonyan has great athleticism. It was apparent to the eye on Monday, and his metrics confirm it. Playerprofiler.com has him with these metric percentiles: agility 67th, speed score 75th, catch radius 78th, burst 82nd, and 40-yard dash 87th. Except for Kittle, whose lowest similar percentile is 90th, Tonyan might be the NFL’s next most athletic tight end.

As for intensity, fans saw on Monday that Big Bob is second to no one on the team.

 

TE Robert Tonyan celebrates

Oct 5, 2020; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers tight end Robert Tonyan (85) celebrates his third touchdown with wide receiver Malik Taylor (86) and wide receiver Darrius Shepherd (82) against the Atlanta Falcons on Monday, October 5, 2020, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. William Glasheen-USA TODAY NETWORK

 

Receiver Shortage Solved?

Over an 8-day period, Packers fans have witnessed breakout performances by receiver Allen Lazard and now Robert Tonyan. These two guys have what it takes to be above average NFL players at the least, and each has the potential for being a star. Yes, the team still lacks depth at the receiver positions, but when our injured receivers return, a starting threesome of Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, and Big Bob suddenly appears to be an area of team strength, not weakness. Adams (27), Tonyan (26), and Lazard (24) should have at least five prime years ahead of them.

Best of all, our rejuvenated quarterback has not shown any hesitancy in launching the ball their way – it doesn’t hurt that each has been wide open more often than not. The catch percentages for the two are phenomenal: for 2020, Tonyan has caught 13 of 14 passes, and Lazard is 13 of 17. Both players, unlike some of their teammates, have great hands. You’d have to go back to Jordy Nelson’s best years to find such high productivity.

By the way, on Monday night Aaron Rodgers was a perfect 19 for 19 when throwing to Tonyan, Jamaal Williams, and Aaron Jones.

What a difference eight days made. Like Tonyan, Lazard has been under development by the Green Bay coaching staff for some time – in his case beginning in 2018. The hard work by these players, and patience and belief by their coaches, are now paying off handsomely.

Speaking of payoffs, both Tonyan’s and Lazard’s one-year exclusive-rights free agent deals run out after this season. It’s going to cost the Pack a bundle of money to retain the two budding stars.

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Rob Born

Smart drafters don’t select the best available players, they fill a team’s positions of greatest need.

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26 Comments

  1. Howard October 8, 2020

    Rob, I believe Lazard will still be an exclusive rights free agent after this year. This will be Lazard’s second accrued season in the NFL. So the cost to keep Lazard will not be that high.
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    Tonyan will be a restricted free agent after this season so the Packers have some options, but those options would cost more depending on a 1st round, second round, original round, or right of first refusal offer from the Packers. If Tonyan keeps producing it could be interesting to see the offer the Packers make to Tonyan, and the interest other teams would have in Tonyan.
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    I think the first round offer could pay Tonyan a little over 4 million If the Packers retain Tonyan. If another team signs Tonyan the Packers Get a first round pick. Second round offer could pay Tonyan a little over 3 million. If another team signs Tonyan the Packers get a second round pick. The original and right of first refusal offers would pay Tonyan a little over 2 million. If another team signed Tonyan Packers would receive no draft compensation. Or the Packers could try to extend Tonyan contract prior to start of 2021 free agency period.

    Reply
    1. Robster October 8, 2020

      Thanks for the fact-checking re the exclusive rights details. I’m very much relieved. Tonyan’s bust-out must have come as a revelation to GM Gutekunst. Otherwise, why would he have expended a third-round draft pick in both 2019 and 2020 on a tight end? It’s a shame about Deguara and his lost season due to an ACL injury. On the season opener, the rookie got an impressive 24 offensive snaps, while Tonyan got 48. In the three following games, Tonyan has actually gotten less action: 44 snaps vs. DET, 39 vs. NO, and 42 vs. ATL.

      Reply
    2. PF4L October 8, 2020

      The four smartest words written on this page……”If Tonyan keeps producing….”
      .
      Great game by Tonyan..no doubt about it. Either way, he made himself a few bucks in that game garnering some National press for his 3TD’s. What i like most about Tonyan is his catch rate, his solid hands, his passion, and the game wasn’t to big for him when the team needed him. You have to figure he knew that the game plan included getting him some targets with Adams and Lazard out.
      With Adams coming back, and eventually Lazard, he won’t be the focal point, but lets hope he’s part of the game plan from now on.
      But….you don’t win a lottery ticket over one game, you have to keep showing it. But i’ll say this, if he ends up with 11,12, 13 TD’s for the season, that can’t be ignored, he may very well get a high tender and earn 4 or 5 million plus next season. I’m pretty sure he’d be happy with that raise in pay.
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      Do i think he can catch 7 or 8 more TD’s this season. Hell yes…but that’s largely up to LeFleur and Rodgers. At the least, he’s shown he’s very worthy of more targets, he’s earned that imo.
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      I wish the kid good luck…on and off the field.

      Reply
  2. PF4L October 8, 2020

    I’m a bit confused in regards to being one year exclusive-rights free agent deal. It looks to me that according to spotrac Lazard will be an exclusive-rights free agent in 2021.
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    Also, according to spotrac, it looks as if Tonyan signed a two year deal, up at the end of this season, where he will then become a RFA.
    .
    I know i’m nitpicking, but i started looking at it trying to figure out how the Packers are going to be able to keep all the players they want, with so many players up for a new deal and limited cap room.

    Reply
    1. PF4L October 8, 2020

      Well those were all submitted about the same time. i had mine up for awhile as i had other things going on. So i never saw the previous postings.

      Reply
    2. Kato October 8, 2020

      They can probably cut Amos and Billy Turner at little cost

      Reply
      1. PF4L October 8, 2020

        The problem with those 2 is the damage was done the first year. They took in a combined 25 million.
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        I don’t think much of Amos (Bear fans were right about him)
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        I also don’t want to rip anyone on the O line as Rodgers has been kept pretty damn clean. Turner has no penalties, no sacks allowed. But for some reason PFF has him at a 54.0 grade. Admittedly…I haven’t keyed on watching him when watching the games. So i have to somewhat put my trust in PFF. But i can’t rip a guy with no flags, and helps keep Rodgers upright.
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        What i have noticed, is the line as a whole, getting up at the snap quick and being very aggressive, verses years past. Maybe that’s good coaching, idk. Not sure they are creating the holes run blocking as last year, but it’s early.
        .

        Reply
        1. Ferris October 8, 2020

          Amos is better than Hee Haw whatever is name was.

          Reply
      2. Howard October 8, 2020

        Kato: I know many have problems with Turner and Amos. In the case of Turner why cut Turner over Wagner? If Turner continues to start over Wagner, and Turner does a good job keeping QB#1 upright consider this. Cutting Turner after this year would result in an approximate 3.5 million dollar Cap savings while resulting in an approximate 4.5 million dollar Dead cap hit. Cutting Wagner would result in an approximate 4.25 million dollar cap savings while incurring an approximate 1.75 million dollar dead cap hit. The decision would be clear provided Turner keeps improving, and continues to start over Wagner.
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        The other prime candidate to be cut is Kirksey before Amos. Cutting Kirksey in 2012 would result in a 6 million dollar cap savings with a 2 million dollar Dead cap hit. Cutting Amos would result in an approximate 4.5 million dollar cap savings and a 5.5 million dollar dead cap hit.

        Reply
        1. PF4L October 9, 2020

          For right now…to me, it’s don’t fix what isn’t broke on the O line. This line is outperforming my expectations (so far). Plus, we have over 75% of the season left including the playoffs. so it’s a bit early to talk cuts.
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          I think like last season, we have to enjoy the ride while it’s good, and see where it takes us.

          Reply
  3. Skinny October 8, 2020

    Well, hes not Atari Bigby but at least hes “available.”

    Reply
    1. PF4L October 9, 2020

      lol…good one.

      Reply
  4. SCPKRBKR October 9, 2020

    It would seem kudos are in order for the O line, they have been instrumental in keeping Rodgers jersey clean and not letting the pocket collapse. This is in part due to blocking by Lewis, Jones, and Williams. Keeping Rodgers protected allows for this TE to get open and keeps Defenses guessing the “who” is getting the look or carry. I am curious if Tonyan was a first look Monday or was he 2 or 3 on the progression chart? As always Go Pack Go! From Myrtle Beach.

    Reply
  5. PF4L October 9, 2020

    Did anyone see Jimmy Graham’s (real) one handed back shoulder TD catch right before halftime last night?
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    In 2 seasons in GB, he had 5 TD catches. In 5 games with the Bears he has 4 TD catches.
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    We saw what we saw in Randall Cobb and Jimmy Graham as a Packer, little effort, some “don’t care” etc.
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    Then they go to a different team and “refocus” and start playing like their trying to make a roster as a rookie.
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    No slow lethargic play, no half ass route running. They go after it.
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    Maybe it’s because they know it’s the end of the line if they don’t play well, or maybe it’s the team and it’s coaches, idk. But you pay them a Kings ransom here and don’t get much, then they go somewhere else and give all they have.

    Reply
    1. PF4L October 9, 2020

      Remember when we’d watch Graham not even bother to jump up for a ball thrown high? He seemed to just say….fuck it.

      Reply
      1. Kato October 9, 2020

        Yeah, that was my same thought when Graham made that one handed catch. He attempted it a few times with the Packers if I recall correctly, but dropped it each time. Idk, maybe this was the Packers thinking with Funchess? Because if he doesn’t produce on this prove it contract, he very well could be out of the league. Unfortunately we have to wait till next year to see. Hopefully he is using this “time off” to get better. Next year’s draft is pretty loaded at WR as well and any teams heading into the next off-season with a need at receiver will likely address it via the draft, which means Funchess is on his last opportunity next year by my estimation.

        Reply
        1. PF4L October 10, 2020

          Although i can’t help myself sometimes, Funchess isn’t even worth a breath. To me, his coming back next year (if he does) just keeps a cloudy issue cloudy. He was a cheap band aid that should be peeled off after this season.

          But no…..we have to sit under that cloud for another year.
          .
          I know…. i know…..he could help. So could our first 3 draft picks this season. Ironic….that for once… our first 3 draft picks were taken for the offense, and none of them are really going to help. Excuses are for losers.
          drafting Dillon this year made about as much sense as drafting Gary last season. THE POSITIONS ARE ALREADY FILLED!!
          God forbid we take a wr, NO NEED….we have Devin Funchess.
          .
          Career catch rate….
          Devin Funchess = 51.8 %
          Alan Lazard = 70%
          Robert Tonyan = 77%
          Davante Adams = 62.8%
          MVS = 49.3%

          I’ll roll with what we have for now and possibly a 1st or 2nd round wide out in the draft, hopefully one of these years. But i’m guessing the defense will swallow up more draft resources than they already have the last 9 years.
          .
          Our reality is we already have one wr with a foot outside the NFL door who can’t catch, why do we need two of them?
          Lets concentrate on saving our one last hope out of 3 receivers Gute drafted.
          .
          For all of those Scholars who have complained and whined that Rodgers has to trust his receivers. You are CORRECT… A (any) NFL QB needs to have enough trust in a NFL receivers ability to catch a NFL football. It’s a weird crazy world out there isn’t it?

          Reply
          1. PF4L October 11, 2020

            Yea….i said all that.

            Reply
  6. Kato October 9, 2020

    So, watching Tampa last night against Chicago, they are entirely beatable. Their offense can be good at times but if Foles and the Chicago offense can score 20, surely GB can score 30 with Adams back

    Reply
    1. PF4L October 10, 2020

      On the surface you would think so. But it’s important to remember that just because Team A did something against, or were able to beat team B, does not guarantee that team C will achieve that same success.
      .
      Each team has it’s own match up dynamics, strengths and weakness’s.
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      Example: If we beat the Bears, and then the Bears beat the queens, that doesn’t guarantee the Packers beat the queens. What one team does against another team in that circumstance can be somewhat irrelevant in predicting wins and losses. IMO.

      Reply
      1. Howard October 10, 2020

        Speaking of strengths. One thing I got out of the Bears and buccaneers game is the Packers offensive line will have their biggest test of the early season against the buccaneers defensive line and linebackers.

        Reply
        1. PF4L October 10, 2020

          Very astute, and hardly unexpected.
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          I think we (I) thought that the queens would be a good test, but with Daniels out and Ngakoue being so new to the vikings they didn’t have much to offer. If their guys are healthy come Nov. 1st, it might be a bit more of a challenge.

          Reply
  7. RudeGirlRocks October 9, 2020

    Rob- I agree with your in-depth analysis of Big Bob. It’s a great reflection on GB in general, especially LeFleur, Rodgers, & our praiseworthy TE.

    Reply
    1. PF4L October 10, 2020

      I have to be honest….that wasn’t very rude.

      Reply
  8. Dean October 10, 2020

    In LAFleur’s offense, are the TEs 1) not as valuable as WRs 2) as valuable as WRs 3) more valuable than WRs.

    I suspect that Gut/LaFleur value TEs (or big WRs that can block and catch) higher than other GMs/coaches. Lazard (6-5 229 lbs) and Tonyan (6-5 239) were big WRs in college. Both were undrafted free agents that were allowed to grow in the packers system after being cut by other teams.

    Also, the pack have drafted TEs in the 3rd round in the last to drafts. Even signing Devin Funchess (6-4 236) hints at the value they place on big bodies to block for the running backs or on WR screens.

    Reply
  9. rebelgb October 17, 2020

    What happened to that Viking fan “Killer”???

    Reply

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