While the wide receiver position has stolen most of the offseason headlines, there’s another major question involving the Green Bay Packers’ pass-catchers this season: Who will start at tight end opposite of Marcedes Lewis prior to Robert Tonyan’s return from his ACL injury?
Tonyan, who tore his ACL against the Arizona Cardinals last season, is expected to return to the team during the regular season but will likely start the year on the physically unable to perform list, which would keep him off the field for at least the first six weeks of the season. While Lewis has been the Packers’ traditional blocking tight end, that is not an every-down role for Green Bay and leads to plenty of rotation at the position.
Enter Tyler Davis.
Davis is one of five Packers tight ends (Tonyan, Lewis, Josiah Deguara and Dominique Dafney) who return to the team after seeing regular-season snaps in 2021. He originally signed with UConn as a quarterback prospect but was converted to tight end before transferring to Georgia Tech in his final season of college football.
He was eventually drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the sixth round in 2020 and spent the 2021 preseason playing for the Indianapolis Colts, who placed him on their practice squad after final cuts. In Week 4, Green Bay plucked Davis off of the Colts’ practice squad. Davis’ addition to the offense was slow, as he recorded just 33 snaps in his first 10 weeks with the Packers, but he earned a career-high 19 offensive snaps against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 15. That game wound up being his highest-graded game by Pro Football Focus ($) and eventually led to increased playing time down the stretch of the season.
The race for playing time at the tight end position opposite of Lewis, at least until Tonyan comes off of the injury list, is going to come down to Davis, Deguara and Dafney, with the latter two having multiple years of playing time for the Packers. With that being said, the in-season snap counts from that trio last year tells an interesting story. From Week 8 to Week 9, it looked like Dafney was pulling away from the pack, recording 39 offensive snaps to Deguara’s 31 and Davis’ one. By the end of the season, though, Davis (99) had doubled Dafney’s snap count (45) from Week 15 (against Baltimore) through the divisional round, including a Week 17 game — the final game that the Packers had their starters in full-time — where Davis out-snapped Deguara for the first time.
Unless you were paying attention closely, Davis’ increased usage probably sneaked right under your nose. Throughout the draft process, many thought Green Bay would add another tight end to the room or would make a trade for Las Vegas tight end Darren Waller, whom league sources confirmed to Acme Packing Company was part of the original trade package for receiver Davante Adams. When no tight end was selected in the draft by the Packers, it was clear that the shakeups at the position this offseason were simply bringing back Tonyan and signing Alize Mack to a futures contract in February, though the team eventually claimed third-year undrafted free agent Eli Wolf from the Indianapolis Colts in May.
Despite that, at every opportunity, general manager Brian Gutekunst and head coach Matt LaFleur have noted that they “think they have something” in Davis. Based on the tight end rotations that have been reported out of organized team activities and minicamp, there seems to be a real chance that Davis takes on a serious role with the offense through October as a complementary piece to Lewis, who started all 17 games for the Packers last season but was only on the field for 43 percent of offensive snaps.
#Packers TE Tyler Davis has the real possibility being TE1 this year. He's gotten praise from Gutekunst, Bisaccia, and Lafleur multiple times this off season! Excited to see what he can bring to the table this year! pic.twitter.com/CxBmwUX8x1— Big B (@bigpackers4x) June 8, 2022
So what can we expect from Davis in 2022? That’s hard to tell. With only 121 offensive snaps and four receptions under his belt, the Packers staff almost certainly has a better handle of what he can do, based on practice snaps, than those of us on the outside. Athletically, we can at least say he did test well above the NFL average during the pre-draft process with a Relative Athletic Score of 7.89 on a 10-point scale.
Tyler Davis is a TE prospect in the 2020 draft class out of Georgia Tech.— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 14, 2020
He posted a good #RAS with good size, great speed, okay explosiveness, okay agility at the TE position.https://t.co/7YYjn4LqRg pic.twitter.com/wruEnvjarI
To best project Davis’ impact this year, APC took a look at what he did against the Ravens from a skillset perspective. That is our best chance of seeing the upside that the Packers’ coaching staff and front office continues to bring up. We cut up his coaches film from that Baltimore game into three buckets (run blocking, pass protection and passing game) when Davis was in the formation as an inline tight end or wing.
Like Lewis, Davis saw plenty of playing time as a true Y tight end with his hand in the dirt against the Ravens, which is his value add over the likes of Deguara and Dafney. Both Deguara and Dafney play the wing, off the line of scrimmage, or in the backfield more often than Davis or Lewis, which shouldn’t be surprising considering their size differences.
On the majority of the run plays in that game, Davis was a play-side blocker or was used as the single player slicing to the weakside in an attempt to seal the backside edge, with the latter being a role that Deguara primarily plays. If you’re reading between the lines, his usage in the ground game is that of a tight end that Green Bay is trying to feature, not one they’re trying to hide.
With only two pass protection snaps in the game, there’s not too much to make of Davis’ contributions in that phase. With that being said, both of his pass protection snaps came next to Lewis in play-action looks where Green Bay put the pair of tight ends by themselves on an edge rusher as their offensive linemen worked elsewhere. The potential for the Packers, who are almost certainly going to be more under-center and run-heavy this year, to generate more “shot plays” off of play-action with that 12 personnel look is worth keeping in mind.
The first clip in the passing game cutup shows Davis’ career-long reception of 22 yards after starting the play with his hand in the dirt, a skillset the Packers desperately need. Again, Lewis is an every-game starter but not an every-down player. He has only recorded 516 receiving yards in four years in Green Bay and the “pass-catchers” (Deguara and Tonyan) on the team are not regular contributors as true inline tight ends.
Davis worked across the middle on every route ran, an area of the field that quarterback Aaron Rodgers usually targets less frequently than most high-level quarterbacks. He also showed the effort level to find work both as a post-catch blocker and on a scramble drill.
Based on how the Packers used tight end Tyler Davis down the stretch, how they have spoken about him this offseason and what he did on the field last year, his role seems fairly defined on this team. They think of him as an inline tight end, maybe the only alternative to Marcedes Lewis, who is a quality blocker and has the athletic upside to develop as a pass-catcher with more reps.
The former quarterback is going to be in the mix at the tight end position until at least Robert Tonyan returns from injury, with Lewis playing the role as the team’s run-first Y tight end, Davis playing the role of an all-around Y tight end and Josiah Deguara playing the role as the team’s wing. Deguara will likely be the team’s third-down tight end, a role he played last year following Tonyan’s injury, until Tonyan is back in the lineup.
It’s hard to make the case that any of Green Bay’s tight ends will be fantasy relevant this upcoming season, at least until Tonyan in November, but their cast of characters in the tight end room provides them plenty of role players who can play to their strengths in specific situations. While you might be wondering “Who/What is a Tyler Davis?” now, he’s a name to know for the Packers moving forward as he has a real path to see playing time in 2022.