As a former undrafted free agent with only 14 total receptions across his first three seasons in the NFL, not much was expected of 26 year old Green Bay Packers‘ TE Robert Tonyan entering the 2020 season. Even after the first two games of last season, Tonyan had only 2 receptions for 25 yards and it felt like the Packers passing game would revolve around Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams and not much else.
That all changed when Davante Adams missed the following two games due to a hamstring injury. With Rodgers forced to look elsewhere, little known TE Robert Tonyan (who we still pronounced as “Tawn-yin”) caught 11 passes across both games, bringing 4 of them in for touchdowns.
14 games and a different name pronunciation later, and Robert “Tun-yin” is now viewed as at least an above average TE in the league. With only one season of significant playing time under his belt, I believe Bobby Touchdowns still has plenty of room to further improve his game. So here’s why I believe Robert Tonyan will be voted to his first Pro Bowl in 2021:
LaFleur is a scheme wizard with tight ends
When you go back and look at Tonyan’s 2020 highlight reel, you’ll notice there aren’t a lot of plays where he towers over double coverage, makes a one handed grab and toe drags along the sideline to secure the catch. That’s simply not what he does. In fact, of his 60 receptions last season, only one of them was labelled a ‘contested catch’ by PFF.
It almost felt like LaFleur only realized what he had in Tonyan a few games into the season, and now that he’s had a full offseason to find creative ways to get him open (with LaFleur likely assuming Jordan Love would have to be starting at QB), get ready to see an even more enhanced version of what we saw last season.
Just how well is Tonyan schemed up? NFL’s Next Gen Stats calculated Tonyan to have the 2nd highest average separation out of all pass catchers in the NFL. Only behind shifty 49ers’ receiver Deebo Samuel. While some of this is down to the efforts of Tonyan himself who is no slouch when it comes to defeating a safety in man coverage, it is mostly thanks to how LaFleur can find ways to put Tonyan in space for open throws.
Tonyan is one of the most efficient pass catchers in the league
One thing that got lost in all the praise of last season’s Green Bay Packers offense was just how remarkably efficient Robert Tonyan was when the ball was thrown his way. There are like a million different stats I could use to convey just how efficient Tonyan was in 2020 but I think this is the best one:
Since targets were first recorded back in 1992, no WR/TE has ever posted a catch rate above 90%. That was until Robert Tonyan caught 90.9% of his targets in 2020. 60 receptions, on 66 targets, without a single drop. And throw in 12 TDs as the icing on the cake. Of course it makes perfect sense that Tonyan led the NFL in passer rating when targeted last season. A whopping 148.5 rating on by no means a small sample size. Frankly, it’s a disgrace that Evan Engram somehow landed a Pro Bowl spot ahead of Bobby last year. That conveniently ties to my final point:
It’s the Pro Bowl
The Pro Bowl is stupid. Really the point of this article is more about how I believe Robert Tonyan will keep up his 2020 form, as opposed to him ‘actually making the Pro Bowl’. As a fan voted system, we all know about the fundamental flaws of the Pro Bowl and how it tends to favor established stars over lesser known guys.
Aaron Rodgers put it well on the Pat McAfee show last year when he described how the Pro Bowl voting is often a year behind. Even last season, Za’Darius Smith made the Pro Bowl despite having much more success the year prior, when he did not make the Pro Bowl. Let’s hope that premise holds in 2021, so that Tonyan would get some well-earned recognition for last season’s accomplishments.
With only two spots for tight ends in the NFC, he’ll likely face some pretty stiff competition in the form of his returning best friend George Kittle, along with Dallas Goedert, TJ Hockenson and soon-to-be rookie sensation Kyle Pitts. Regardless, who even cares? It’s just the Pro Bowl. Yes it’s nice to get the recognition and in some cases a sweet pay rise as well, but overall I expect Robert Tonyan to be a key piece in the Green Bay Packers puzzle as they dance one final time with Aaron Rodgers.