Monday Musings: Tonyan & Analytics

General manager Brian Gutekunst spoke to the press for 15 minutes on Tuesday, and he paid homage to the late Ted Thompson by saying nothing of interest. If you’re a fan over 40, you probably miss the far more loquacious Ron Wolf with each passing year. Anyway, here are three of the many Packers-related thoughts that ran through my head the past few days:

1) Robert Tonyan had 60 catches, 668 yards, 12 touchdowns, and only one drop in 18 games last season – numbers that will likely earn the restricted free agent a second-round tender worth over $3 million. But is the 26-year-old tight end deserving of an even more lucrative payday? Maybe not, if you believe in analytics. Tonyan ranked 21st in yards per route run at 1.58, 40th in average depth of target at 1.58, tied for 55th in contested catch situations with one (a contested catch is a play where the defender is in range and contests the pass at the catch point), and tied for last in missed tackles forced after a reception with zero. What all this means is that most of his catches were very close to the line of scrimmage and very open. To be fair, there were times when Tonyan got himself open by running clever routes. Still, it’s fair to wonder how many tight ends not named Jimmy Graham could put up similar stats with Matt LaFleur designing the plays and Aaron Rodgers throwing the ball.

2) It makes sense to look at players who have a prior relationship with LaFleur when trying to figure out which free agents might interest the Packers in the coming weeks. but based on the past two years, that probably won’t be very helpful. That’s because just one player from LaFleur’s previous stops in Los Angeles and Tennessee has joined him in Green Bay, and Tavon Austin was only signed after Tyler Ervin was placed on injured reserve late last season. Ironically, a player’s familiarity with assistant coaches does seem to matter. Marcedes Lewis was with offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett in Jacksonville, and ex-Packers Christian Kirksey, B.J. Goodson, Tramon Williams, Billy Winn, and Ibraheim Campbell spent time in Cleveland with former defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.

3) The Packers have until Tuesday afternoon to place the franchise tag on Aaron Jones. If Gutekunst chooses not to use the tag, the star running back will likely sign with another team within the first 48 hours of free agency. If that happens, Jones would become just the third Pro Bowl player to leave the Packers without signing a second contract since this current system of free agency began nearly 30 years ago. Running back Eddie Lacy (2017) and free safety HaHa Clinton-Dix (2018) quickly flamed out after exiting Green Bay while outside linebacker Bryce Paup (1994) went on to be named Defensive Player of the Year for the Buffalo Bills in 1995. It’ll be interesting to see what happens to Jones should he leave. While he won’t turn 27 until December and has limited wear on his tires, he’s also undersized and prone to injuries. The Packers did a great job of limiting his touches the past four seasons, but that’s easier for a team to do when it’s paying a player an average of $900K a year as opposed to $12 million.

analytics courtesy of Pro Football Focus

Michael Rodney

Packers Notes is the creation of Michael Rodney, who has been writing about the Green Bay Packers for over 30 years. His first blog, Packer Update, hit the internet in 2004. Before becoming a public educator, Rodney worked as a journalist for a couple of newspapers in his home state of New Jersey and covered the Philadelphia Eagles for WTXF-TV. He's had numerous articles on the Packers published, and he's been featured on both television and radio over the years.

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