The Green Bay Packers’ tight end room feels a bit like the Island of Misfit Toys. They have one of everything, which could make the potential loss of any one component of the unit a bigger deal than it otherwise might be.
Green Bay has its big blocking tight end in Marcedes Lewis, its off-the-line receiving threat in Robert Tonyan, and its wing player who also lines up at fullback in Josiah Deguara. But those skillsets overlap only so much, and the Packers don’t have quality, established backups at any of those spots.
Perhaps that is why the group as a whole struggled to put forth any major contributions on the stat sheet last season after Tonyan was lost for the year with a torn ACL in week 8. Then again, even when he was healthy, his production was down significantly from a 2020 season that saw him catch nearly 90 percent of his targets — an unsustainable number, to be sure, but not one where simple regression would be responsible for his notable dip in 2021.
Maybe the Packers have something in Tyler Davis as an in-line player who can help fill in for Lewis, but to say he is unproven is an understatement. Meanwhile, Tonyan’s own availability for the start of the season is in question. Will the Packers find a contributor in this group of intriguing but inexperienced players down the depth chart? That question will start to be answered when training camp begins in 13 days.
How acquired: Unrestricted free agent signing in 2018
NFL experience: 17th year
2021 stats: 17 games; 23 receptions on 28 targets, 214 yards (9.3 yards per reception)
The venerable veteran returns in 2022 for another run at a ring, coming back to Green Bay for a fifth season after 12 years with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Still the only first-round draft pick to ever catch a touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers (for now, pending Sammy Watkins’ contributions this fall), Lewis remains an elite blocker and a de facto sixth offensive lineman who will occasionally leak out on a route. 2021 was by Lewis’ biggest receiving season since arriving in Green Bay by a decent margin, though the injury to Tonyan led to a few more targets than usual.
How acquired: Signed to practice squad as street free agent in 2017
NFL experience: 5th year
2021 stats: 8 games; 18 receptions on 29 targets, 204 yards (11.3 yards per reception), 2 touchdowns
Tonyan had the worst possible timing for a torn ACL — in the middle of a somewhat lackluster follow-up campaign to his breakout 2020 and just before he was set to become an unrestricted free agent. It was a bit of a surprise to see the Packers welcome him back on a one-year deal so quickly after free agency opened up, but almost half of his $3.75 million in possible compensation comes in the form of per-game roster bonuses to mitigate costs in case he struggles to return to the field.
Some signs from this summer point to him being ready to begin working in training camp, but that will remain to be seen. And when he does come back, the biggest question will be if he can recapture the level of play that netted him 11 touchdowns and nearly 600 yards in his big 2020 season as the team’s primary receiving option at this position.
How acquired: Signed off Indianapolis Colts’ practice squad during 2021 season
NFL experience: 3rd year
2021 stats: 14 games; 4 receptions on 5 targets, 35 yards (8.8 yards per reception)
A sneaky breakout candidate on this roster is Davis, whom the Packers plucked off the Colts’ practice squad late last September. He would end up playing over half of the team’s special teams snaps in 2021 while pitching in a bit here and there as a receiving option. It has been comments about Davis from the front office and coaching staff this offseason that have drawn some more eyeballs to him, however, with both GM Brian Gutekunst and new special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia mentioning him as a potential key player on the roster.
How acquired: 2020 NFL Draft (3rd round, #94 overall)
NFL experience: 3rd year
2021 stats: 16 games; 25 receptions on 33 targets, 245 yards (9.8 yards per reception), 2 touchdowns
After a rookie season lost to a torn ACL, Deguara settled into a solid role as the Packers’ primary move tight end after Tonyan was lost to injury in week 8. From that game through the end of the season, Deguara had either two or three receptions in every game, flashing some ability while also often becoming the subject of Aaron Rodgers’ ire after the occasional mistake.
Even before that, however, Deguara was getting at least double-digit snaps in every game he played. But the biggest play of Deguara’s young career came in the second half of the season finale, when he took a screen pass from Jordan Love to the house for a 62-yard touchdown. He’ll need to start producing a bit more to justify his third-round draft status, but 2022 could be a big step forward for him as it is the first time in his pro career that he will have the benefit of a full, healthy offseason program.
How acquired: Signed to practice squad as street free agent in 2020
NFL experience: 2nd year
2021 stats: 10 games; 2 receptions on 4 targets, 34 yards (17.0 yards per reception)
While Deguara was down in late 2020, Dafney emerged with a couple of big plays, including a great touchdown reception against the Chicago Bears. However, he missed five games early in the season with a hip injury and was a healthy scratch twice in the second half of the year. When he did play, he rarely factored into the offense and even had games when he was rarely used on special teams. With he and Deguara effectively playing the same position, it would not be a shock to see the Packers keep just one of the two, and Deguara’s status as a day-two draft pick gives him a significant upper hand.
How acquired: Signed as street free agent in 2022
NFL experience: First year
2021 stats: None
A big, reasonably athletic in-line tight end, Mack was a 7th-round pick by the Saints in 2019 out of Notre Dame. However, he spent time with four different organizations over the past two years before signing a futures deal with the Packers in February.
The 6-foot-4, 250-pounder was a tertiary receiving option in college, with his best season resulting in 360 yards and three touchdowns as a senior. There’s athleticism to work with here, as he recorded a RAS of 8.54 during the 2019 draft process and posted great numbers in the 40 and jumps.
How acquired: Claimed off waivers from Indianapolis Colts in May 2022
NFL experience: First year
2021 stats: None
What the Packers might have in Wolf is very much unknown for now, with the most notable item being that the team employed his older brother, Ethan, for a few stints in the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Wolf started his college career at Tennessee but transferred to Georgia as a senior. There, he caught 13 passes for 194 yards and a touchdown in eight games. Like anyone down the roster, he could surprise, but will need a big performance in the preseason both on offense and special teams to threaten for a spot on the 53.