Robert Tonyan is the starting tight end for the Green Bay Packers, and Aaron Rodgers’ new favorite target. The crazy part is that he did not actually ever play tight end until he reached the NFL.
He was a quarterback his freshman year in 2013, and then in 2014, he transitioned to playing wide receiver for the Sycamores, recording 2,047 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns in his Indiana State career. Standing at 6’5 and weighing 235 pounds though, he was the perfect size for an NFL tight end, and so he made yet another position change, this time at the highest level of competition.
Tonyan was an undrafted free agent in 2017, signed by the Detroit Lions, cut after training camp, and then was signed to the Green Bay Packers’ practice squad for the last 4 weeks of his tough rookie season. He then made it into all 16 games for the Packers, making his first catch, a 54-yard touchdown, in Seattle on Thursday Night Football in 2018.
His immediate success on such a well-established team can be attributed to his time as a college quarterback. “When I hear a play, I know what all 11 people are doing and I just think of it and learn conceptually” said Tonyan.
While this is true, Tonyan’s attitude and determination were also big factors in his early success. The NFL is the highest level of football competition, and the jump Tonyan made was even harder than most rookies make, coming from an FCS school rather than a Power 5 FBS school like Clemson or Oregon.
He didn’t make the rookie of over-confidence though, instead he recognized the difficulty. “In the NFL, every week, you have to bring it, you have to buckle your chinstrap and go out and give it 100%” says Tonyan. This mindset kept him motivated, but also helped him keep his job, as he says “It’s your job. If you’re not fulfilling what you’re supposed to bring to the table, you can be replaced.”
The NFL is tough, but this mindset and drive has led Tonyan to have a very successful 2020 season so far, but the road was not easy. While the 2018 season could be seen as a success, the 2019 season was very different.
With expectations rising, Tonyan only had 10 receptions for 100 yards, playing in only 18% of the offensive snaps. He also missed 5 weeks for an injury core muscle injury in his hip area that affected his performance the rest of the season.
Yet, expectations remained high for Tonyan entering the 2020 campaign, yet he has gone above and beyond those expectations. Tonyan knew he wanted to catch passes from Aaron Rodgers in primetime, and so he did.
Tonyan said coming into 2020, he developed “more of a want it and go take it mentality rather than playing it by ear and whatever happens, happens.”
Rather than following the offense, Tonyan is creating offense, as he looks to “go out and make a difference and make a play,” and he has done just that. On October 5th, the Packers, without star wide receiver Davante Adams were looking for a new go-to-guy against the Atlanta Falcons, and Tonyan stepped up in a huge way, catching all 6 of his targets for 98 yards and 3 touchdowns, becoming just the third Packers’ tight end to score 3 touchdowns in a game.
Tonyan is now the favorite target of arguably the most talented quarterback of our generation in Aaron Rodgers, and to think just a few years ago he called Terre Haute, Indiana his home