How Many Tight Ends Will the Packers Keep On the Initial 53-Man Roster

The Green Bay Packers offered great news on Sunday, when three important offensive players came out of the physically unable to perform list - offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins, wide receiver Christian Watson, and tight end Robert Tonyan. For the tight end room, Tonyan's return is highly impactful.

First, because he is the best receiving option among the group - Tonyan is an effective red zone option, has a strong connection with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and also has the physical profile to develop his middle-of-the-field receiving skills to become a perfect weapon against the modern two-high defenses, which are en vogue throughout the NFL.

Additionally, Tonyan also impacts how the tight end group will be built. As the receiving tight end was activated from PUP, he has to start the regular season on the active 53-man roster.

Since Matt LaFleur became the Packers head coach in 2019, tight end has been one of the most stable positions roster-wise in Green Bay. The initial and final 53-man rosters have always had four players - and in-season changes have occurred basically because of injuries to Josiah Deguara in 2020 and to Robert Tonyan in 2021.

2019
Initial and final (4): Jimmy Graham, Marcedes Lewis, Robert Tonyan, Jace Sternberger.

2020
Initial (4): Robert Tonyan, Marcedes Lewis, Jace Sternberger, Josiah Deguara.

Final (4): Robert Tonyan, Marcedes Lewis, Jace Sternberger, Dominique Dafney.

2021
Initial (4): Robert Tonyan, Marcedes Lewis, Josiah Deguara, Dominique Dafney.

Final (4): Marcedes Lewis, Josiah Deguara, Dominique Dafney, Tyler Davis.

This year, it's probable that the Packers will keep four tight ends once again. But as the offense goes through a rebuild and needs more versatility, it's not impossible the Packers go for the season with five tight ends, with three different types of skills - classic in-line blocker, receiver, and versatile TE/h-back/fullback. Dominique Dafney was a possibility, but he was released as part of the cutdown to 85 players on Tuesday.

Locks
Robert Tonyan

There isn't financial security for Tonyan. He re-signed with the team for one year, $ 3.75 million, and just $ 1 million guaranteed, but he's a roster lock anyway. Since he was brought in after being released by the Detroit Lions in 2018, Tonyan has been the best receiving tight end in Green Bay since Jermichael Finley, and his role in the offense might expand even more now, without Davante Adams to dominate targets. His best season was in 2020, with 586 yards and 11 touchdowns. The numbers hadn't been that high even before his injury last season, but he was still an important piece for the offense. If Tonyan is able to develop his skills to improve his in-breaking route skills, he will become even more important and go back to the market in 2023 in high demand. 

Marcedes Lewis
It's impressive to think that Marcedes Lewis is going to his fifth season in Green Bay, a longer second act to his career than anyone could have imagined when he left the Jacksonville Jaguars after the 2017 season. In fact, last year was the most prolific yardage-wise for Lewis in Green Bay, with 214 yards. However, everyone knows that's not why he is on the Packers roster still. Lewis' best ability on the field is blocking. The veteran blocks like an offensive tackle, and he was essential last season to help the backup tackles when David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins were injured. Marcedes is in the last season of his two-year deal signed in 2021, and at this point in his career he is a year-to-year proposition. In 2022, though, Lewis can still contribute.

Josiah Deguara
The 2020 third-round pick is the only Packers tight end under contract beyond 2022, and the expectations are higher for him now. After a shorter training camp with no preseason games in 2020 because of covid-19, Deguara spent all of last offseason recovering from an ACL injury. Therefore, this is his first complete preparation before an NFL season. His versatility is a weapon for Matt LaFleur's offense, as he is used primarily as an h-back and fullback. In the preseason opener against the San Francisco 49ers, Deguara was highly-used and decently effective as a downfield blocker - a good example was the Jordan Love zone-read run.

Fighting for a spot
Tyler Davis

The rest of Packers tight ends are fighting between themselves, but also against fringe roster players from other positions, because there is a realistic scenario where the Packers keep five tight ends. Tyler Davis is the clear favorite to be the fourth tight end, especially after Dominique Dafney was released. Davis was a sixth-round pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2020, and spent his rookie season on their active roster. Last season, Davis was on the Indianapolis Colts practice squad, from where the Packers signed him off of. There was high expectation over his potential and receiving ability, but the return of Robert Tonyan and his uninspiring performance against the 49ers left a bad perception. Now, he has two preseason games left to show he can still be useful for the team.

The rest of the depth
Alizé Mack and Sal Cannella were added earlier this year. If they impress enough during the remaining parts of training camp and preseason, they might be able to get a practice squad spot — or even an active roster spot if the Packers decide to keep five. The last one on the tight end depth chart is Nate Becker, who was claimed off waivers from the Carolina Panthers on Monday - an unusual move one day before the cut down date from 90 to 85 players. He was brought in probably to be tested, as a scouting tool in case of an in-season opportunity.

Photo: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

-----------------------------

Wendell Ferreira covers the Green Bay Packers for Zone Coverage and Cheesehead TV. He is a Brazilian journalist with over a decade of experience covering the NFL, soccer, NBA, and MMA. Follow him on twitter at @wendellfp  

NFL Categories: 
4 points

Comments (26)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
mnbadger's picture

August 16, 2022 at 12:08 pm

I'm guessing we keep three. If four, Alizé Mack before Sal Cannella, who doesn't look at all ready.
Hopefully, a Dean Lowery trade brings back a veteran TE to GB. GPG!

-7 points
1
8
T7Steve's picture

August 16, 2022 at 12:19 pm

Because they're keeping 4 backs or 7 WR?

0 points
0
0
dobber's picture

August 16, 2022 at 02:25 pm

Heflin had a good game Saturday, and there's talk that he might be ready to fill a roster spot...that's about the only way I see them dealing Lowry at this point: if they decide they've got similar (or better) play from a younger, cheaper guy. I've been pushing Lowry out the door for his cap space (about $4M...or would it be $6M as post Jun. 1?) for a couple years, but I think he sticks.

-1 points
0
1
Coldworld's picture

August 16, 2022 at 04:58 pm

Agree. If Heflin is to get on the roster then one of the others isn’t going to be available. The only one that could (not would) make sense to trade is Lowry. That said, is Heflin really enough to trigger that? I don’t think so. Lowry will only be moved if we have an opportunity to improve elsewhere that they don’t want to pass up.

0 points
0
0
Packers0808's picture

August 16, 2022 at 12:55 pm

Dafney cut today. One less tight end. Surprised some because of his Special Teams play!

1 points
2
1
mrtundra's picture

August 16, 2022 at 01:40 pm

Surprised they cut RB BJ Baylor, too.

-1 points
0
1
dobber's picture

August 16, 2022 at 02:12 pm

He had a flash play on Saturday. It might be a kindness to let him see if he can parlay it into another shot somewhere else.

0 points
0
0
packer132's picture

August 16, 2022 at 07:24 pm

Dafney was injured too much, and Packers signed a TE today (Becker). Hopefully Tonyan is ready for week #1.

1 points
1
0
LLCHESTY's picture

August 16, 2022 at 07:36 pm

The new guy is an inline blocker that caught 13 balls in college. Dafney might as well be playing another position compared to that.

1 points
1
0
Coldworld's picture

August 16, 2022 at 01:47 pm

If Tonyan is ready to play at close to his pre injury level I think that they keep 4. Health aside, they will keep Deguara, Lewis and Davis or Mack (if Davis implodes). One move, one in line blocker, one lead blocker/ H back and one jack of all trades.

The new guy looks to be a developmental blocking specialist who could replace Kaufusi from last year’s PS. Mack is another all purpose type who could be a reserve for Davis in what may be the most critical role in the group ideally and Canella is a move prospect. Other than Mack perhaps, the PS seems the ceiling this year for these guys. We may yet see more churn here too.

As far as STs go, they just released the most likely ST route candidate in the group. I think this group is fairly settled if Davis can put last week in the rear view mirror.

2 points
2
0
dobber's picture

August 16, 2022 at 02:11 pm

LaF likes to play 2 TE sets, so I think it's four: Tonyan, Deguara, Lewis, and Davis. There are no guarantees that Tonyan will be ready for significant snaps week 1, but it looks like he's going to be on the 53 at cutdowns (even if he's rostered, then sent to IR). Davis didn't show well week 1 with a noteworthy pop up and by being pushed around at the LOS--but he was getting regular offensive snaps last season from the Ravens game on, and played more than 50% of the ST snaps last year (that's after not starting the season on the active roster). At this point, I think that--barring injuries--this position group is mostly set.

Given the snaps that Lewis gets and the fact that they really don't have someone on the roster who fits Lewis' profile should he get hurt, finding the next Marcedes Lewis is probably a priority. CW points to the guy they just brought in...maybe a PS stash who gets elevated if needed.

2 points
2
0
Coldworld's picture

August 16, 2022 at 05:03 pm

They could also bring back Kaufusi if they really feel a need. He’s a Lewis type and a FA. I think they will go younger at this point but if they don’t find better then perhaps.

1 points
1
0
LLCHESTY's picture

August 16, 2022 at 07:44 pm

2022 was good draft for inline TEs. I really wish they had a guy the last year or two that could have been taking blocking pointers from Lewis, even if it was just a UDFA.

0 points
0
0
PatrickGB's picture

August 16, 2022 at 03:20 pm

Matt said that he would not rule out Jenkins at TE!

1 points
2
1
stockholder's picture

August 16, 2022 at 08:00 pm

That makes perfect sense to me. If it's about Blocking.

2 points
2
0
Leatherhead's picture

August 16, 2022 at 04:48 pm

I’m going to have to agree with Dobber and Coldworld that it’ll be 4.

2 QBs
4 TEs
6 WRs
9 OL
4 RBs

1 points
1
0
Guam's picture

August 16, 2022 at 05:42 pm

I think the discussion is going to be around 6 Wrs and 4 Rbs or 7WRs and 3 RBs. I think the player talent is there to go either way and I suspect special team's prowess will be the determining factor as to which way the Packers go.

1 points
1
0
Grandfathered's picture

August 16, 2022 at 06:30 pm

I would not be surprised if the Packers keep only 3 RBs and either keep an extra WR - or a full time special teams player from either Offense or D.

1 points
1
0
Guam's picture

August 16, 2022 at 06:51 pm

With Watson off PUP, I think the Packers will lean toward 7 WRs - Watkins, Lazard, Cobb, Watson, Doubs, Winfree or Toure, and Amari Rodgers as a special teamer/WR.

0 points
0
0
Coldworld's picture

August 16, 2022 at 07:43 pm

I have a feeling Rodgers will push hard for Winfree. He trusts his routes and hands. I think Winfree is the 5th game day active and first up replacement in the event of a guy getting hurt.

0 points
0
0
Guam's picture

August 16, 2022 at 09:04 pm

You're likely right although I would like to see what Winfree and Toure do over the rest of the preseason before making that judgement. I also think Watson maybe the inactive WR over the first few weeks of the season until he logs enough practice time with Rodgers and the offense.

0 points
0
0
packer132's picture

August 16, 2022 at 07:28 pm

I agree: Pack keep 3 RB's with Hill on PUP and Taylor on practice squad. Have to keep 7 WR's including Winfree.

1 points
1
0
Coldworld's picture

August 16, 2022 at 07:43 pm

I think the odds are Taylor is the third.

1 points
2
1
LLCHESTY's picture

August 16, 2022 at 07:49 pm

Taylor makes more sense than Goodson if they only keep 3 for sure. With only 3 they all have to be able to block.

I think Hill will be back in the next couple weeks. Most of the writers thought he'd be the 1st guy off the PUP list.

0 points
0
0
Coldworld's picture

August 17, 2022 at 06:56 am

Running backs coming off ACLs often take a year to gradually fully return to their pre injury selves. I’m cautious about Hill’s ability to help this year.

0 points
0
0
dobber's picture

August 17, 2022 at 06:15 am

I think this distribution sounds about right. It might be skewed if one of the key returnees (Jenkins, Bakhtiari, Tonyan) is practicing but a couple weeks from playing at cutdowns...might lead to the Packers shifting a roster spot from the defensive side for the short term.

0 points
0
0