His name is Robert Tonyan, and he absolutely exploded over the last few weeks, especially against a reeling Atlanta defense on Monday Night Football. Many of you have pulled the trigger on a trade to acquire him already, but should you be on the lookout to profit on this new acquisition? Is there a chance he turns back into a pumpkin? Is this the truth or a trap?
Profile and 2020 Performance
Robert Tonyan is a man of many skills arriving at Indiana State as a quarterback, eventually transitioning to a wide receiver. Per this Bleacher Report article, he is in the 4.5~ range for his 40-yard dash. At his size, with the experience as a quarterback and wide receiver, he could continue to develop into a deadly, “move” tight end.
Tonyan is taking advantage of his opportunity this year, boasting 173 yards on 13 catches (92% catch rate) with 5 scores through four weeks. That is very attractive, especially at the tight end position. He could be breaking out on schedule, given this is his third year in the league.
The fact that he was a UDFA may give you a tiny extension of the buying window if there are doubters that he is the real deal. If you were fortunate enough to scoop him up, you might have a gem on your hands. However, digging into the tape is the most prudent way to confirm. Let’s dig into the tape to find out.
Two themes were consistent upon watching the games against Atlanta, New Orleans, and Detroit: scheme and missed defensive assignments.
Looking at the tape you can see he benefits from play design, like on this play. pic.twitter.com/EQcXD14Ns8— Vernon Meighan (@FFB_Vern) October 7, 2020
In this first play, we can see how Tonyan comes open on a misdirection play. The box safety appears to be spying Aaron Rodgers, and no one accounts for Tonyan. This gives him a ton of space to work, making this a real easy 20 yards.
Here is another example of that against the Saints…. pic.twitter.com/f4p8Kjwp75— Vernon Meighan (@FFB_Vern) October 7, 2020
In this next play, we see more scheming that results in him getting open against the Saints. The consistency of these types of play designs should be encouraging for his production. Some may be tempted to count against him the fact that he is being schemed open. This would be a mistake because it is not his fault that he benefits from a good quarterback and play-caller.
This was more of the same. Scheme sets him up for success. Is his frequency of success tightly coupled w/ being schemed open? That’s exactly what I will look into in my next ‘Truth or Trap’ article… pic.twitter.com/ihZEQGs48R— Vernon Meighan (@FFB_Vern) October 7, 2020
Like the others, this clip above was a result of scheme and bad decisions. He showed some good things in these situations. The choice to release inside is what gives him space early in his route. Sure, it was also the sensible choice given the traffic, but he still deserves credit. He also finished the play even with two defenders on him. Like we see at the end of this play, competitive toughness is often a difference-maker in red zone situations.
I will give my assessment on whether or not he has the requisite skills to transcend scheme dependency. Here is a little evidence toward that end… pic.twitter.com/ghDnSkQojF— Vernon Meighan (@FFB_Vern) October 7, 2020
This play was all Tonyan. The aggressive release angle to set up the nasty swim move is a nice quality to defeat press coverage. For me personally, the release is top of my list in necessity when grading receiving skills. It’s nice to see him utilize his strength and size advantage to win early. To work the swim move that effectively requires some quickness too. This is a play we should be excited about for sure. The way he kept playing, especially with a quarterback like Rodgers, is sure to generate more explosive plays like this for your rosters.
Between the scheme and the individual skills we have seen, the evidence of his upside is mounting. For me, one aspect that may go overlooked by many is his start as a UDFA. When UDFAs work up to starting roles it normally indicates they work hard at their craft. This means we can expect that he is literally trying to get better everyday.
As we have shown in many of these clips, there was some important context to these big plays. There is more context to consider.
His last two games’ results are exciting, but there is some meaningful context for fantasy evaluation. Davante Adams was out for both of those performances forcing Rodgers to seek other options. Another nugget of context is that Tonyan didn’t even log a stat until the same game where Adams got injured (week 2). Furthermore, in this last 3-touchdown game, Allen Lazard (arguably Green Bay’s WR2) was also out with an injury.
What does this mean? There are a few ways this could go. Adams could return, siphoning all of the gas out of Tonyan’s fantasy value. That would simultaneously be the most boring and worst possible outcome. Given what we have seen above. Why on earth would Rodgers not spread the ball around? As effectively as they have schemed Tonyan open, Adams’ presence should only serve to enhance it further.
Truth or Trap?
From a football perspective, I would say ‘Truth’ is my answer. Essentially, that means he could have a big game on any given Sunday due to his skills, his quarterback, the other playmakers around him, and the scheme. Unfortunately, true fantasy gems require consistent production to return value.
For Tonyan to become a fantasy ‘Truth’, I need to see the following things:
- Consistent opportunity upon Adams’ and Lazard’s respective returns
- Production against a higher level of competition than the lowly, heavily injured Falcons (2nd worst pass defense DVOA)
- Continued success in his release versus press
- Continued competitive toughness
- Further development of chemistry with Aaron Rodgers
That last one is critical. Aaron Rodgers is not known for targeting tight ends with any sort of frequency in recent history. Since the Jermichael Finley seasons (2009-2012), Rodgers only targeted a tight end more than 60 times twice. Sure, some seasons sprinkled in here and there with Richard Rodgers in 2015 and Jimmy Graham in 2018, but were you really rostering those players in those seasons as if they were going to become a thing? I doubt it. A development in their relationship is an indicator I would be starving for as a Tonyan owner. Keep your eye on this.
Circling back to the list of items to look for, perhaps the next one of importance is what happens when other playmakers return. If he ‘disappears,’ do not be quick to move him. He should have value in spots where Green Bay faces tougher passing defenses with quality corners. If that becomes his life, then so be it. At least you will have a matchup play at the position. If Tonyan flames out for fantasy, it won’t be due to a lack of skill or effort on his part.
The ‘truth’ versus ‘trap’ designation all depends on your expectation on acquisition. If you bought Tonyan (or hopefully, scooped him off the wire), hopefully you weren’t expecting the next George Kittle simply because of their association. If you were, then this is going to feel like a trap when Adams comes back and opportunities adjust accordingly. On the other hand, if you were expecting a quality tight end on the rise, then he will feel like a ‘truth.’ As Aaron Rodgers begins to realize the truth of Tonyan’s football acumen, Tonyan will become a more solidified truth.
Until next time, keep following me @FFB_Vern on Twitter. It is there where I preview these articles with some tape breakdowns. On another note, make your dynasty management life easier with DynastyGM. It has literally saved me days worth of time and it’s only Week 4. It’s so worth it.
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