Tight end is one of the few positions that will be pretty straightforward for the Packers in 2021. I think most would agree with that. But, there is always a chance for someone to make a big leap or even fall back a bit. Let’s get to it though and break it down.
Tonyan the fourth-year player out of Indiana State is the lead dog of the group, pardon the pun. A former wide receiver, he has become a solid all-around tight end. His run blocking could still be better. He is no longer a detriment as a blocker. He had a breakout season in 2020 and should have made the pro bowl over Evan Engram. His numbers were a lot better across the board.
He had a huge jump in production from 2019. Part of it was that he was finally able to stay healthy and the other part is it just took him a while to develop. Injuries early in his career did stunt some of his development. Another less talked about factor is the huge increase in snaps he saw from 2019. He went from 193 snaps in 2019 in 11 games to 638 in 16 last season.
With Deguara healthy and the hopeful improvements of Dafney and Sternberger, Tonyan’s touches and production might see a little dip. But, he still is a very good tight end that still has room for growth. He will be TE #1.
The proverbial ‘Big Dog’. The 16-year vet is definitely at the end of his career at 37 years old. Even with that being said, he is still a great blocker, and even though he can’t jump anymore, his size makes him an appealing option in the redzone. He’s also probably closer to 275-280 pounds versus the 267 that he is listed at.
He did see a drop in receptions, yards, catch percentage, yards per target, and he also had four drops. He can’t run anymore. He also had his longest catch as a Packer and picked up three redzone touchdowns.
This season will more than likely be his last in Green Bay and probably his last in the NFL. He will still provide a strong veteran presence to the locker room and especially to a very young group of tight ends. Always pass on what you have learned. Whatever he producing in the passing game is just a bonus.
Since he tore his ACL after only two games, last season was basically a redshirt year for Josiah. It looked like LaFleur had a specific role in the offense for him last season. It will be interesting to see how they reintegrate him into the offense this coming season. With Tonyan entrenched as the starter at tight end, I would expect Deguara to play mostly the h-back role. It is a role well suited to his style.
If completely healthy, he will also bring some versatility to the offense which LaFleur likes. He can take snaps at TE, h-back, full back, and even some snaps split out. A lot of fans are excited for what he brings to the offense in 2021.
Expectations should be tempered. He is coming off an ACL tear, and it typically takes tight ends a while to adjust to the NFL game from college. Plus, and this is going to get old saying this: the Packers have a lot of mouths to feed on offense, and with him still being an unknown, expect him to be towards the bottom of the ladder. I would expect somewhere around 200 yards and a couple of touchdowns.
To say Sternberger has been unlucky so far in his career would be an understatement. He has dealt with injuries, COVID, Strep, and now a suspension for substance abuse. He has said his issues are behind him, and he is receiving counseling and living clean, which is good for him. You hope he just gets his life taken care of. That is what matters the most; football comes second.
With that being said, outside of a couple of flash plays, he hasn’t shown many his first two seasons, even when he has been healthy. Yes, we know it typically takes tight ends a couple of years to adjust to the NFL, and he only played one season at Texas A&M, and that was as more of a wide receiver than a tight end. He has the talent and upside to be a very good receiving tight end.
This season, though, he will be on the hot seat. If he doesn’t show enough or continues to have ‘issues’, the Packers may just cut bait after this season. Hopefully, he can get everything straightened out and show why the Packers drafted him so high. He has a skills set none of the other tight ends have. Similar to Deguara, though, there is a lot of talent on offense so he may not see a lot of targets.
Dafney was thought of as little more than just a body when he was signed to the practice squad on October 12th. He was a practice squad activation for Week 13 against the Eagles. He was then signed to the 53 roster the day before the Week 14 game against the Lions. He really flashed on special teams and even a bit on offense.
He only played in five regular-season games and both playoff games. He flashed as a blocker and receiver. He fit really well into the H-back role. He still is a bit of an unknown since he only played in five games. He will be in a fight for a roster spot.
With that being said, I see him making the roster. He was really good on special teams and did well when he was called upon to block on offense. Those are skills the Packers need. With Deguara coming off the ACL tear, he has a chance at stealing some snaps from him if his recovery is a little slow. Even still, he should play a lot of special teams and see snaps on offense as a blocker.
Nauta is originally a Lions draft pick from 2019. He was signed to the practice squad on December 12 and spent the rest of the season there. He started the season on the Lions roster, catching one pass for three yards.
Nauta is more known as a blocker and is not very athletic. He scored a really bad 1.56 RAS at the combine. He has some potential as a blocker…maybe. But, both Dafney and Deguara have more potential as both blockers and receivers. Nauta is more than likely just a camp body. I don’t see him beating out any of the five guys ahead of him.
Kaufusi is a former third-round pick out of BYU by the Ravens, as an edge defender. In three seasons, he has played in nine games. He has eight tackles and half a sack. The Packers signed him on January 15th and immediately converted him to tight end. Even switching him to tight end, he still rates out as a decent athlete at a 7.42 RAS.
Being from BYU, though, he is already an older player at 29. He is big though at 6’6, 275. They probably see him as a potential blocking TE. If he was a first or second-year player and a lot younger, I could see them maybe keeping him around on the practice squad thinking they could develop him into a replacement for Lewis, but I just don’t see that happening at almost 30. He is another camp body like Nauta.
In summation, I see the Packers rolling into the 2021 season with a tight end group consisting of Tonyan, Lewis, Sternberger, Deguara, and Dafney. With Sternberger being suspended the first two games, I think they just go with four guys the first two games. I don’t think it will hurt them too much; they should be fine getting by without him for two weeks.