2020 Season in Review - Tight Ends
Another day, another position! In our fourth instalment of reviewing every player at every position, we turn our attentions to the tight ends. How did they fair in 2020?
In his short time with the team, Robert Tonyan has always been a fan favourite, but the fans love for him went off the scale in 2020 as he had the long hoped for breakout season. Tonyan showed himself to be a receiving threat both short and intermediate, whilst occasionally stretching the field down the seam. He was a constant threat to score (11 touchdowns) and his hands were fantastic – according to Pro Football Reference he caught 52 of the 59 passes thrown his way (targets) and had no drops.
Tonyan played in all 16 games, starting in 8 and finished the regular season with 52 receptions for 586 yards and 11 touchdowns – including 7 games in which he caught 5 or more passes. The 11 touchdown receptions equalled the Packers record for touchdown receptions by a tight end in a single-season (Paul Coffman, 1983) and was tied for the 2020 NFL lead amongst tight ends (with Travis Kelce). He also had 3 touchdown receptions in a single game vs Falcons in week 4 – which equalled the Packers single game record for a tight end (Keith Jackson, 1996 and Jermichael Finley, 2011).
In 2020, Tonyan gave the Packers a threat from the tight end position that they haven’t had for the best part of a decade, and in all honesty, has been too infrequent throughout team history. Somehow, he wasn’t selected for the Pro Bowl, which made very little sense. How much of a breakout year did he have? Well coming into 2020, Tonyan had just 14 receptions for 177 yards and 2 touchdowns in his 2-year Packer career.
Tonyan enters 2021 as a restricted free agent but there appears to be no doubt that the Packers will want to re-sign him and bring him back this year – expect Green Bay to place a 2nd round tender on him (meaning that they’d get right of first refusal and then a 2nd round draft pick in compensation if he left the team). The 2nd round tender amount is expected to be about $3.4m.
Great things are now expected from Bobby.
The Packers re-signed Marcedes Lewis to a 1yr/$2.5m contract in March – bringing him back for his 15th NFL Season, and 3rd with the Packers. Lewis remains one of the league’s premier blocking tight ends, so much so that Pro Football Journal named him 1st Team All-Pro as a TE-Blocker.
Lewis played and started in 15 games, missing only the week 4 games against Atlanta when he was on the gameday inactive list. In a talented group of tight ends, Lewis doesn’t see much action as a pass receiver – just 10 catches for 107 yards – but he is a threat down near the goal line, with 3 of his 10 catches going for touchdowns. More than anything though, Lewis is a team leader type who leads by example.
Lewis is now an unrestricted free agent but rather than move to another team, it seems more likely that he will retire. He has had a very fine career which included 403 receptions and 37 touchdowns.
Josiah Deguara (4 yr/$4.54m rookie contract) was a little bit of a surprise 3rd round pick (94th overall) by the Packers in the 2020 draft (many felt that he was a 4th or 5th rounder at best) but as it turned out, he looked very effective in practice leading up to the season opener, particularly as a receiver.
Unfortunately, Deguara’s rookie season was cut short. He started the season opener against Minnesota but suffered an ankle injury which saw him go on the gameday inactive list for weeks 2 and 3. He came back in week 4 against the Falcons but things went from and to worse when he suffered a torn ACL that put him on Injured Reserve and ended Deguara’s rookie season almost before it began. He played just 2 games (1 start) and was inactive for 2 games – catching 1 pass for 12 yards.
Hopefully Deguara will be back and ready to play for the start of the 2021 season, but that remains to be seen – comeback timescales from ACL injuries can be difficult to judge.
Sternberger was the Packers 2019 third round draft choice (75th overall pick) and after missing most of 2019 due to injury, the team had high hopes for him coming into 2020. Unfortunately, Sternberger hasn’t yet lived up to his billing – in 2020, he caught just 12 passes for 114 yards (9.5 average) with 1 touchdown. He also returned 1 kick-off for 8 yards as an upback.
In fairness, Sternberger’s 2020 season was a bit up and down, having missed time just prior to the season when he was on the COVID-19 reserve list and later sitting out 4 games on the gameday inactive list. Overall, he played in 12 games with 0 starts.
Having been surpassed by Robert Tonyan, Sternberger heads into his 3rd year in 2021 with his career at an interesting point. He’ll need to show more than promise and start to deliver some numbers for the Packers this coming year.
Dafney was a utility man in college – playing fullback, wide receiver and tight end – who went unselected in the 2020 draft. Indianapolis picked him up for a little while prior to the season but released him at the final roster cutdown. The Packers signed Dafney to their Practice Squad on 12th October and he was elevated for 1 game (week 13) before being permanently promoted to the active roster for the final 4 games of the Regular Season (and the whole of the postseason).
Dafney played in 5 Regular Season games (starting 2) and he had 2 receptions for 26 yards, including 1 touchdown. He also had 2 special teams tackles (2 solo).
Almost coming out of nowhere at the end of the season, Dafney quickly established himself alongside Robert Tonyan as a fan favourite. We can expect him to be back with the Packers in 2021 and it will be interesting to see how he progresses.
Nauta was a 7th round draft pick of the Lions in 2019 but didn’t make their roster – winding up on the Practice Squad. In 2020 he spent a little time on both Detroit’s 53 man roster and their Practice Squad whilst making little impact. Nauta was waived by the Lions on 5th December and signed to the Packers' Practice Squad a week later (replacing Dominique Dafney who was signed to the active roster) and remained there until the end of the season.
In January, the Packers signed Nauta to a contract for the 2021 season, so we should expect to see him competing for a roster spot again this year.
Kaufusi was a 3rd round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in 2016 as a defensive end. But his time with the Ravens was blighted by injury – playing just 3 games in 2 seasons before being released. He spent the last 2 years with the New York Jets but again saw relatively little playing time (just 6 games). During 2020, the Jets converted Kaufusi from a defensive end to tight end.
The Packers signed Kaufusi to a reserve/futures contract on 15th January, obviously viewing the 6-6, 270 converted tight end as an intriguing prospect. He will certainly compete through the summer, but it seems unlikely at this stage that he would make the Packers final 53-man roster in 2021.
No Longer With the Team
A 2019 undrafted free agent, who had spent time on the Bears and Steelers Practice Squads, Dax Raymond was signed to the Packers Practice Squad on 3rd November (replacing Nakia Griffin-Stewart who was released the same day). He was released from the Practice Squad on 26th December when P Ryan Winslow was signed, never having been elevated or activated to the full 53 man roster.
In January, Raymond was signed to a contract for the 2021 season by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Griffin-Stewart went undrafted in 2020 and spent a little time on the Vikings off-season roster during the summer before being released. He was signed to the Packers Practice Squad on 23rd September but was released about 6 weeks later (3rd November), when Dax Raymond was signed. During his short stay in Green Bay, Griffin-Stewart was not elevated or activated to the full 53 man roster.
Looney was previously a defensive end who spent time on the Packers Practice Squad in 2019 learning the tight end position. The Packers re-signed him to reserve/future contract on 21st January 2020 with a view to him competing for a roster spot. But Looney lost out in a crowded tight end room and was waived on 15th August.
Evan Baylis has a been a perennial NFL roster fringe player for a number of years – and 2020 was no different. The Packers signed Baylis to a reserve/future contract on 21st January 2020 expecting him to compete again for a roster spot. But with the drafting of Josiah Deguara, the return of Jace Sternberger and Marcedes Lewis plus the emerging Robert Tonyan, Baylis was left on the outside looking in and was waived on the final roster cutdown to 53 on 5th September.
This time, the Packers didn’t sign him to their Practice Squad and Baylis was picked up by the Arizona Cardinals for their Practice Squad on 20th September. But this was not the end of his 2020 story – The Cardinals subsequently elevated Baylis to the active roster once, permanently promoted him to the active roster 3 times, waived him from the active roster 3 times and re-signed him to the Practice Squad 3 times each. He ended the year on the Cardinals Practice Squad.
Graham entered 2020 still under contract with the Packers (hence the reason that he is listed here), but Green Bay released him in March, prior to his roster bonus becoming due. Graham would have earned around $11.7m in 2020 and in releasing him, the Packers saved $8m against their salary cap for the past year. Despite some decent numbers in his two years with the Packers (93 catches, 1,083 yards and 5 touchdowns), Graham never played at the level that the Packers expected when they signed him to a 3 year/$30m contract in free agency in 2018 and became a frequent source of frustration and disappointment for Packers fans.
After being released by Green Bay, Graham signed for the Chicago Bears on a 2 year/$16m contract. In 2020, he started 15 games for the Bears catching 50 passes for 456 yards and 8 touchdowns.
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