Slumping start to season clouds future of Packers TE Robert Tonyan

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On the heels of a breakout season, Green Bay Packers tight end Robert Tonyan is not having the same success a year later. Tonyan has just 11 receptions for 92 yards and one touchdown through the first six games of 2021. After the first 6 games of last season, he was already at 23 receptions for 309 yards and five touchdowns.

There are two possible reasons for his drop in productivity. Either Tonyan is in a slump, or is he being underutilized. Usually, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Through his first six games of 2020, Tonyan had already received 27 targets. This year, that number has dropped to 20. So, there’s a decrease in terms of his focus in the passing game, but there is also a significant drop-off in another important category.

Tonyan’s 23 catches on 27 targets resulted in a catch percentage over 85 percent. As it currently stands, he is at exactly 55 percent. Tonyan has only one drop to his name on the season, but that doesn’t change the fact that he isn’t hauling in passes with nearly the same efficiency.

For years, the Packers longed for a tight end who could stretch the field. Tonyan did a good job of that last year, but recently, something is off.

According to Pro Football Focus, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has thrown to Tonyan six times this year when he is at least 10 yards downfield. However, he has only hauled in one pass of at least 10 yards this season despite six targets, highlighting another noticeable reduction.

Downfield passes mostly come in the form of seam shots to Tonyan, who is tasked with making a difficult play in what is usually a contested-catch situation. Throughout his 16 games played in 2020, Tonyan was making these plays on a semi-regular basis as he hauled in six out of nine targets of at least 20 yards. On medium passes, ranging between 10-19 yards downfield, he caught nine out of 11.

For whatever reason, Tonyan’s downfield prowess has disappeared. Of course, there is plenty of time left in the season for Tonyan to get back on track, but this isn’t the kind of a start you want to your season when standing in the on-deck circle for a new contract.

Tonyan returned to the Packers on a one-year deal with the hope of having another productive season to drive up the price for his next contract. If anything, Tonyan’s status with the team is now in limbo. Green Bay is currently 5-1 and could probably use any extra money to try and lock down Davante Adams over the next few years. Even with constant attention from opposing defenses, Adams leads the NFL in receiving yards and is tied for the lead in receptions. Meanwhile, Tonyan has struggled to make an impact and is turning into a liability as a blocker. That is a different conversation for another day.

Perhaps, Tonyan will improve over the course of the season, but even if he does, it may not be enough to include him in the future of the Packers.

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