On Monday Night Football, in an empty Lambeau Field and against an Atlanta Falcons team whose secondary is pieced together with scotch tape, the world was introduced to Robert Joseph Tonyan Jr.
The third year TE out of Indiana State has maintained relative anonymity to the average NFL viewer and is most affectionately known as Big Bob among Green Bay Packers fans. Prior to this season, Big Bob was stuck behind Jimmy Graham on the depth chart, as well as Marcedes Lewis who is an absolute unit that blocks. His rookie season was forgetful (16 games, six targets, four catches) but his rookie season flashed potential before being felled with an injury. He played 11 games in 2019 while seeing 15 targets and 10 catches for 100 yards, all while learning the Matt LaFleur offense that has plenty for the TEs to do.
While seeing limited action in his first two seasons, we very well could have missed his big play potential. He only had four catches in his rookie season, yes, but one of those catches went for 54 yards (He had 77 total on the season). And last year’s 10 YPC isn’t anything to balk at. Now, from a fantasy perspective, is Robert Tonyan the real deal or is he just being buoyed by a couple of great games?
This year, with the offense firing on all cylinders and Tonyan seeing more opportunities, he has exploded into fantasy’s TE1 after four weeks. He leads TEs in Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR) and Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA). He also is leading TEs in touchdowns (5).
His 93 percent catch rate is a little too absurd to maintain, but given the way he was running freely against the Falcons, it should stay relatively high. He’s fifth on the team in targets, but he’s sitting just behind Allen Lazard, who will still end up missing more time this season. While having a limited amount of catches, he has 126 more Effective Yards (EYds) than real yards, which means he’s playing a lot better than his stats would indicate. He trails only Travis Kelce in EYds for TEs.
Whether it’s the Matt LaFleur scheme sharing commonalities with the Kyle Shanahan offense or the fact that the two TEs work out together and share an agent, Tonyan has drawn George Kittle comparisons. Kittle is, of course, a freak of nature runs and blocks better than just about any TE out there, but Tonyan is athletic in his own right. According to Kent Lee Platte’s Relative Athletic Score (RAS) system, Tonyan is considered an “Elite” athlete—the highest designation. He ran a 4.58 40-yard dash at his Pro Day in 2017 and had Elite 20- and 10-yard splits. He also boasts Elite vertical and broad jump numbers. His only “Poor” measurements come from his weight and bench, only weighing in at 236 and putting up 16 bench reps. Both these attributes can be remedied at the NFL level, though, when training with professional staff (indeed, Tonyan is surely bigger than his listed 237-pound weight). Getting workouts in with Kittle in the offseason doesn’t hurt either.
Robert Tonyan went undrafted in the 2017 draft class.— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) May 13, 2019
He posted a Great #RAS with Poor size, Elite speed, Elite explosiveness, Good agility at the TE position.#Packers pic.twitter.com/RB1W1nJc5L
Yes, Tonyan blew up against a modest Falcons team, but the silver lining is that he was able to eat while Green Bay’s top two pass catchers were sitting out. Lazard won’t be back anytime seoon, but Davante Adams will be and this should free up Tonyan against teams that are better defensively. Adams is a chess piece that allows all the other pieces of the offense to move in more fun and creative ways. Tonyan can play close to the line or in the slot, and he is both fast enough to beat linebackers and big enough to out-muscle safeties. That is exactly what you want for a team that’s running the second highest rate of 21 personnel in the league (28 percent) and the second fewest 11 personnel groupings with three WRs (36 percent).
Maintaining status as the TE1 throughout the season is tough when you’re not the number one option on your team, but staying in the top-five shouldn’t be an issue for Tonyan given his efficiency. High-volume guys like Darren Waller, Evan Engram, and Zach Ertz aren’t getting the same bang for their opportunities with only two TDs between the three, despite 65 catches between them. Tonyan’s efficiency and projected increase in targets — they’ve trended upwards over the past three games — will keep him ahead of the usual suspects in the fantasy TE landscape. Tonyan looks to be here to stay.