This week, Packers fans and statheads throughout the world of football were understandably upset when the NFL named its Pro Bowlers and Robert Tonyan was not on the roster. The Green Bay tight end is having an indisputable breakout season. Though 14 games, the undrafted third-year tight end from McHenry, Illinois has 10 receiving touchdowns (good for second on the team, fifth in the entire NFL, and tied for the most among all tight ends), 49 catches (second most on the team), 551 yards (third most among Packers), and has been part of memorable plays like the “somersault touchdown” and a block that took out three Lions at once.
Tonyan’s performance this year isn’t just worthy of a Pro Bowl nod, it’s also one of the best seasons any Packers tight end has ever put together. His next touchdown will tie him for the single-season record for Green Bay tight end touchdowns. Matching or even breaking the one-year high for Packers tight end receptions also isn’t out of the realm of possibility. And when combining his huge 2020 with the numbers he put up in very limited time in 2018 and 2019, Tonyan is already, statistically speaking, one of the 10 best Packers tight ends of all time.
It’s true! A mixture of his prowess and lackluster numbers from virtually ever other person to play the position in Green Bay already has Tonyan in the conversation of best Packers all-time tight ends. Of course, we’re not factoring in “blocking tight ends” or pre-1950s players who were around before the idea of a pass-catching end came to widespread acceptance. And, yes, we’re speaking specifically about the performance of tight ends WHILE THEY WERE PACKERS, so get out of here with that “What about Jimmy Graham, Wesley Walls, and Keith Jackson, BRUH?!?” stuff. With all that in mind, here’s how Robert Tonyan stacks up to the OTHER best tight ends in Green Bay Packers history.
9. Tyrone Davis (1997 – 2002)
We couldn’t think of a better indictment of Green Bay’s lack of tight end production than (justifiably) featuring Tyrone Davis on this list. Over a span of 69 games (27 of those starts) in six seasons, Davis had 13 touchdowns, and 780 yards on 71 receptions. With two moderately productive games to finish out the season, Tonyan’s career numbers could easily match or overtake all those marks. So it’s safe to say Davis’ days in the nine slot are numbered.
8. Donald Lee (2005 – 2010)
One of the offensive holdovers during the Favre-to-Rodgers changing of the guard, Donald Lee never boasted huge numbers. Despite never reaching the 50-reception mark in a single season, Lee was surprisingly agile for a tight end and he cracks this list because he also had a surprising number of touchdowns during his six years in Green Bay. That said, Lee’s 17 scores in a Packers uniform is a number well within Tonyan’s grasp if he sticks around another season. Lee’s 1,655 career yards in green and gold might also be within Robert’s reach next year.
7. Richard Rodgers (2014 – 2017)
Packers fans will always remember the name Richard Rodgers because, well, he was one half of the “Rodgers To Rodgers” Hail Mary in Detroit five years ago. For the time being, he’ll also be remembered fondly because he’s technically one of Green Bay’s best tight ends of the modern era. In four years with the Pack, primarily in a backup capacity, Rodgers caught 120 balls for 1,166 yards, and 13 touchdowns. His best season with Green Bay came in 2015 when he had 58 receptions, over 500 yards, and eight touchdowns (including the aforementioned Hail Mary). He has a decent advantage over Tonyan in Packers receptions and yards, but his touchdown mark will be tied the next time number 85 reaches the end zone.
6. Ron Kramer (1957 – 1964)
When Ron Kramer was playing with the Packers, the concept of a pass-catching tight end was something of a new novelty. “The Big Oaf” caught on fast, though, with 170 receptions, more than 2,500 yards, and 15 touchdowns in seven seasons—back when seasons only had 14 games, mind you—with Green Bay. Along the way, the Packers won two NFL Championships with Kramer on the roster.
5. Mark Chmura (1993 – 1999)
Even though Mark Chmura was selected to three Pro Bowls and was a favorite of Brett Favre both on an off the field, his career was actually less remarkable than most might recall. In his seven-season career (all spent with the Packers), Chewy has 188 receptions for 2,253 yards, and 17 touchdowns. It might take Tonyan two more seasons to do it, but those numbers could all be overtaken with ease. Also, it’s worth noting that Chmura’s best season—his breakout 1995 campaign in which he had 54 catches and seven touchdowns—has already been bested by the current Packers tight end.
4. Jermichael Finley (2008 – 2013)
Had a serious injury not derailed his career midway into his sixth season, Jermichael Finley might have gone down as the best Packers tight end of all time. The tall and super athletic deep threat showed flashes of brilliance in his relatively brief Packers tenure, catching 223 balls for 2,785 yards, and 20 touchdowns. Finley also hold the single season record for receptions by a tight end, with 61 catches in 2012. It’s worth noting that his best season (2011) found his tallying 55 catches for 767 yards and eight touchdowns. Tonyan’s insane 2020 season already includes more touchdowns, with the prospect of more receptions likely and more yards also within reach before regular season’s end.
3. Ed West (1984 – 1994)
While Ed West is far less of an offensive threat than, well, pretty much all the other guys on this list, we feel compelled to put him this high up because of his longevity and—as a direct result of him sticking around Green Bay for 11 seasons—the number of touchdowns he scored in a Packers uni. His 25 touchdowns he scored in green and gold is the third most all-time among tight ends. That said, West’s 202 grabs and 2,321 yards he amassed in more than a decade could easily justify him dropping a few spots on the list.
2. Bubba Franks (2000 – 2007)
Over the course of eight seasons with Green Bay, Bubba Franks managed 262 receptions for 2,347 yards. The main reason a guy with Ed West-like numbers (albeit in three fewer seasons than Ed) gets such prime placement here is due to his 32 (!!!!!) touchdown receptions he had as the primary Packers tight end and a favorite target of Favre. Should Tonyan stay in town, the stats Franks put up aren’t out of reach, but they would take a few seasons to surpass.
1. Paul Coffman (1978 – 1985)
Believe it or not, we’ve saved the best for last here. Paul Coffman was a three-time Pro Bowler who holds Packers single-season tight end highs for yards (814) and—as of this article’s writing—touchdowns (11). Tonyan might match, and maybe even topple, the touchdown record tonight and/or next week. However, it might take the Packers tight end the rest of his career to even get close to matching his forefather’s 322 catches, 4,223 yards, and 39 touchdowns with Green Bay.