Entering the 2020 campaign, few people had ever heard of Green Bay Packers tight end Robert Tonyan, but that changed in a hurry when he caught 52 passes for 586 yards and, most importantly, 11 touchdowns, which tied him with Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce for the NFL lead at the position.
That breakout performance made him a fringe top-10 fantasy target heading into last season once it became official that quarterback Aaron Rodgers would return.
Unfortunately, Tonyan’s follow up effort was underwhelming. He logged two or fewer receptions in five of his first six games with only one TD during that stretch. It looked like he might be turning the corner in late October, snagging seven passes for 112 yards and a score in Weeks 7 and 8 combined, but he tore his ACL during the team’s Thursday night win over the Arizona Cardinals and missed the second half of 2021.
Before checking on his recovery, it’s worth discussing why Tonyan’s numbers fell off. While the easy answer would be he simply wasn’t targeted as much, that doesn’t paint a complete picture. In reality, the absence of left tackle David Bakhtiari was a huge factor in the tight end’s statistical struggles. Minus Rodgers’ All-Pro blindside protector, the Packers kept Tonyan in line to chip defensive ends or even fill full-fledged blocking roles to give No. 12 more time to distribute the pigskin.
There are still some concerns about Bakhtiari, who worked with the rehab group during minicamp, though the team claims that it was always part of the recovery plan. They also drafted three offensive linemen, which helps solidify the trenches. Assuming the improved depth and/or Bakhtiari’s return shore up the line, it should allow Tonyan to be more involved offensively, which is something the team could use after trading wide receiver Davante Adams (Oakland Raiders) and watching Marquez Valdes-Scantling sign with the Kansas City Chiefs.
When exactly Tonyan will be ready to roll is still up in the air. The team has said he’s ahead of schedule in his recovery from a torn ACL, and he was spotted working with the rehab group during OTAs, which is all good news. The Packers are notoriously conservative when dealing with players returning from injury, however, and with Tonyan suffering the injury on Oct. 29, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him open 2022 on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) List. That said, the surgery techniques are much better these days, and tight ends don’t require the same degree of cutting as a running back, for example, which could expedite the timeline.
Fantasy football outlook
Tonyan’s value will become clearer once training camp arrives and the Packers decide whether to allow him to practice, which would nullify his chance to open the year on the PUP.
Over 17 games, he could be a late-round flier. If he’ll miss six games, Tonyan might have value as an IR stash in larger leagues. Either way, he’ll be someone to watch once healthy as he’s one of the few targets to have Rodgers’ trust.
Risk-averse owners may avoid him entirely given the depth of the position, but it could come at a detriment to a fantasy team, especially in non-PPR formats where a premium is placed on players with a penchant to score touchdowns. We’ll revisit this situation closer to the preseason.
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