Big Bob Tonyan. You can’t help but wonder whether having Jimmy Graham on the Green Bay Packers' roster last season was doubly bad, first for having Jimmy Graham on the roster, but second for denying us some Big Bob greatness just a bit earlier.
Probably not on that last part, as the offense is so much different, and so much better than last year, and there was likely some necessary trust and chemistry gained by playing that season as it was. Jimmy Graham was targeted a ton last season and I kept wondering why. It seemed like a mismatch of talent and scheme, and every time Jimmy would completely whiff on a block (which just isn’t his thing) I wondered if this could ever work. In retrospect it looks like a work of genius.
Robert Tonyan won’t ever be a great blocker, but unlike Graham, he is a willing one, and sometimes that’s good enough. Being a willing blocker, it turns out, is the key to being a good receiver in this offense. Not much has changed talent-wise in 2020 other than Graham’s departure, but Bob Tonyan’s willingness to engage in occasionally dirty business (and his much greater ability to split out wide) has gotten him on the field to great effect. Jace Sternberger is making progress week after week, and if he continues to improve, the 1-2 punch at the position will be impressive.
Marcedes Lewis, even in his dotage, is still a Mack truck as a blocker, and wins with surprise when he isn’t blocking. The combination has made the Packers the second best tight end group in the NFL behind only the Indianapolis Colts, led by Mo Alie-Cox.
Tight End Units by Team
|Green Bay Tes||GNB||19||24||243||12.79||6||0.79||10.13|
|San Francisco Tes||SFO||35||41||366||10.46||3||0.85||8.93|
|Kansas City Tes||KAN||25||36||302||12.08||2||0.69||8.39|
|New Orleans Tes||NOR||14||22||171||12.21||1||0.64||7.77|
|Las Vegas TEs||LVR||37||48||334||9.03||3||0.77||6.96|
|Tampa Bay Tes||TAM||21||35||237||11.29||3||0.6||6.77|
|New England Tes||NWE||3||8||44||14.67||0||0.38||5.5|
|New York Giant Tes||NYG||24||39||183||7.63||0||0.62||4.69|
|New York Jets Tes||NYJ||14||24||84||6||0||0.58||3.5|
Philip Rivers has always targeted his tight ends, so that’s not surprising. Aaron Rodgers has too, as Graham and underwhelming players like Richard Rodgers have seen plenty of targets. They’ve just rarely been very good outside of Jermichael Finley or Jared Cook. Matt LaFleur and Kyle Shanahan love their big guys catching passes, and it’s worth noting they may know something we all don’t. Pro Football Focus has been working on a football WAR stat (Wins Above Replacement) for a while, and for a time last year, George Kittle of the 49ers was the most valuable non-quarterback in football. That was a surprising revelation because tight ends are usually considered luxury players on offense, preceived to be behind receivers and offensive linemen (certainly tacklers, at least) in terms of value. But given their dual role as blockers and receivers, and the flexibility that grants a creative team, it makes a lot of sense. After all, does anyone doubt George Kittle’s value?
George Kittle in 2019 is the best tight end we've ever seen, and that includes Gronk.https://t.co/MosM8T2mtp— PFF (@PFF) December 11, 2019
The Packers have also gotten great efficiency from their big guys in this early season, where Allen Lazard, an “almost tight end” and outstanding blocker in his own right, ranks 3rd in DVOA among receivers. Driving the point home, Big Bob Tonyan is currently first among tight ends in DVOA, and he leads a group that’s quietly dominating football.
The 49ers have been good at finding these little pockets of extreme efficiency with their big dudes. In addition to Kittle, fullback Kyle Juszczyk was the 2nd best pass catching running back last season. The talk of the NFL when LaFleur was hired was the McVay revolution. It’s never materialized, and it’s sort of petering out. The Shanahan/LaFleur Revolution of Monsters is upon us. Look on it, and cower in fear.