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Tight Ends Tonyan, Davis Followed Similar Paths to Packers

Robert Tonyan started his collegiate career as a quarterback. So did Tyler Davis. Tonyan emerged as a breakout star at tight end in 2020. Davis hopes to follow the same path.

GREEN BAY, Wis. – At Indiana State, Robert Tonyan started three games at quarterback as a redshirt freshman in 2013. He completed 34.3 percent of his passes. A year later, he was playing receiver.

At Connecticut, Tyler Davis was recruited to play quarterback and redshirted in 2015. Entering the 2016 season and with Bryant Shirreffs entrenched as the starter, then-coach Bob Diaco approached Davis with a plan to get him on the field.

“I played quarterback basically my whole life,” Davis said at Green Bay Packers organized team activities on Tuesday. “We had a solidified starting quarterback and the head coach came up to me at the time and said, ‘Tyler, you can’t hold a clipboard on the sidelines. You’re too athletic. We need you somewhere.’ He said outside linebacker and I kind of was like, ‘Oof.’ I was like, ‘Oh, let me think about that one.’ He said, ‘How does tight end sound?’ I said, ‘It sounds good’ and it went from there.”

Those position changes paved their way to the NFL.

Tonyan went undrafted in 2017, transitioned to tight end while spending his rookie training camp with the Detroit Lions and signed to Green Bay’s practice squad late in the season. During his early days in Green Bay, he played catch with Aaron Rodgers, who at the time was recovering from a broken collarbone.

A few years later, Tonyan was one of the NFL’s breakout stars. Of the 34 tight ends who were targeted at least 40 times in 2020, Tonyan was No. 1 in catch percentage (89.7), drop percentage (0.0) and passer rating (148.3), according to PFF, and tied for No. 1 in touchdowns.

Davis was drafted in the sixth round by the Jacksonville Jaguars. He failed to make the Jaguars’ roster in 2021 and landed on the Indianapolis Colts’ practice squad, where the Packers grabbed him in late September.

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“I remember my first day here,” Davis said, “I was in the CRIC and Aaron just walked by and he said, ‘If you need any help, let me know.’”

A crash course in learning the offense ensued. A month after arriving in Green Bay, Tonyan suffered a torn ACL – a season-altering injury. During the final four games of the regular season and the playoff game, Davis averaged 20 snaps on offense and 21 snaps on special teams. He finished the season with four receptions for 35 yards.

“Just working. No other explanation for that,” he said. “This is what I love to do. So, I would try to get here by 5:30 in the morning and I wasn’t leaving until 9 o’clock at night, just trying to figure out as much as possible as I could. Definitely interesting circumstances, to say the least. I remember my first day here was Wednesday and we had a game that Sunday. So, definitely some difficulty there, but just trying to learn as much as I could as fast I could, just putting in the work. That’s really what it came down to.”

Fast forward to May. Davis knows the offense. And he also knows Tonyan is recovering from last year’s injury. A golden opportunity perhaps awaits, depending on Tonyan’s return date. Green Bay’s tight ends room is filled with specialists. Marcedes Lewis is the blocker. Josiah Deguara and Dominique Dafney are the versatile H-backs. No tight ends were drafted. It’s Davis who has the size and athleticism to perhaps factor in the passing game.

“The opportunity that I have is awesome,” Davis said. “We’re pretty similar in the type of body type that this tight end position that me and Bobby play. I’ve got tons of clips of Bobby on my iPad that I watch every day. Just trying to emulate him and trying to be exactly like him is a big deal. We’ll see whatever role they have for me, I’m open for it.”

Davis joked that he had a better arm than Tonyan. On a serious note, Davis said he and Tonyan talk about their backgrounds. With their quarterback history, they see the game in a similar way.

Tonyan went from quarterback to undrafted free agent to NFL standout. Davis hopes to follow a similar progression.

“I feel like I’m scratching the surface,” Davis said. “I feel like I gained some momentum for myself toward the end of the year that definitely added some confidence for myself going into this past offseason to now. Definitely, I feel like I’m scratching the surface. I feel like I can turn into a pretty special player.”