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Free Agent profile: Tight end Robert Tonyan

Could the former Packer’s time with Justin Outten and Nathaniel Hackett help the Broncos replace Noah Fant?

NFL: Washington Football Team at Green Bay Packers
Tonyan is a familiar face that makes a ton of sense.
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos team needs have undergone a bit of an overhaul since the trade to acquire Russell Wilson. Quarterback is presumably solved, but now the current tight end room is down to Albert Okwuegbunam and Shaun Beyer.

One tight end who almost makes too much sense for Nathaniel Hackett’s offense is Robert Tonyan, who spent the last three years in it while both were members of the Green Bay Packers.

Player Profile

Height: 6-4
Weight: 236 pounds
Age: Will be 28 on April 30th
Experience: 4 seasons

Why it makes sense

The Broncos offense under Hackett will feature tight ends more than Pat Shurmur did, and right now the position group is long on questions and short on experience. As of now the Broncos are set to count on Okwuebunam and Beyer. Okwuegbunam’s shown promise when healthy, catching 44 passes for 451 yards and 3 TDs, but he also spent time on Injured Reserve each of his first two seasons. Beyer was on the practice squad his whole rookie year after receiving $125,000 in guarantees to sign with the Broncos following the 2021 NFL draft.

It took time for Tonyan to develop after he signed with the Packers as an undrafted free agent in 2017, but he broke out in a big way in 2020 with 12 touchdown receptions to go with 668 yards on 60 receptions. His experience in the Packers offense should make a transition to the Broncos’ new system a smooth one. He’s a good athlete with soft hands that could carve out a role as a strong tertiary receiver, and the cost to sign him won’t be prohibitive. At 27-years-old with only 1,204 snaps on his NFL resume, there’s reason to believe his best ball remains in front of him.

Why it doesn’t make sense

Tonyan’s 2021 came to an end when the tight end tore his ACL in October and they typically take six to nine months to recover from. The injury means the Broncos could probably sign him without significant guarantees, but also means there’s a good chance he’s still working himself back to form this offseason.

Beyond the medical question, Tonyan’s size and play strength make him a much better pass catcher than run blocker. He can be overwhelmed by edge rushers as well as some blitzers. Okwuegbunam and Beyer’s presence could mitigate this concern. It may not.

Lastly, tight ends have not been a focal part of the Seattle Seahawks offense since Jimmy Graham in 2017, so an argument could be made that the Broncos finite cap resources could be better spent elsewhere.

Final Thoughts

The Broncos can go a few different ways with their tight end room this offseason. Without Fant on the roster it isn’t hard to imagine George Paton signing a big name free agent to step into the vacated role. At the same time, Okwuegbunam’s shown flashes and Beyer was clearly held in high regard in 2021, so there’s a distinct possibility the Broncos do not add a new starter to the room.

If George Paton does chase a veteran to start or even serve as a second tight end, Tonyan is an intriguing fit. He’s proven in the system and his game has notable overlap to Fant’s, while his ‘21 injury means the Broncos could potentially sign him without breaking the bank.


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