Robert Tonyan: What Type of Expectations Should We Have for the New Vikings Tight End in 2024?

Sep 25, 2022; Tampa, Florida, USA; Green Bay Packers tight end Robert Tonyan (85) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings signed free agent tight end Robert Tonyan, completing his circuit around the NFC North.

Tonyan was signed as a UDFA by the Lions in 2017, had his most notable tenure with Green Bay from late-2017 to 2022, and landed in Chicago in 2023.

The NFC North journeyman was a legitimate target during his time with the Packers, though it seems to be another case of Aaron Rodgers making the most of a lesser-talent. His career year came in 2020, where he racked up 586 yards on 52 receptions, and scored 11 touchdowns. He was without a doubt one of Aaron Rodgers’ favorite targets that year, and it has paid dividends to the tight end all the way into 2024.

Green Bay Packers tight end Robert Tonyan (85) against the New York Jets during their football game on Sunday, October 16, 2022 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. Wm. Glasheen USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

2020 remains the only season in which Tonyan has surpassed 500 receiving yards, though. The closest he came was two years later in 2022 where he posted 470. 2020 was also a major outlier in terms of his touchdown numbers. He had 11 that season, and has never had another season with more than 2 touchdowns, before or after.

His most recent campaign came with the Chicago Bears in 2023. He played every single game that season, backing up Cole Kmet. Still, his lowly 11 receptions and 112 yards with no touchdowns to show through 17 games isn’t exactly encouraging, no matter how anemic the Bears passing game has been for the last…well, ever.

Jan 1, 2023; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Green Bay Packers tight end Robert Tonyan (85) celebrates a touchdown reception during the third quarter of their game against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

This analysis may seem slightly harsh, but it isn’t mean to be that way. These are simply the numbers that the player has produced for us to form our opinions with. The fact of the matter is that 2020 painted a picture of which many fans may still observe and see him as that player, but that simply isn’t the case. 

While it certainly is fine to hold out hope that Robert Tonyan would somehow channel the ghost of COVID’s past and return to 2020 to somehow resurrect the version of himself that we saw with MVP Aaron Rodgers, you might be disappointed if you go that route. There likely is a very small chance Tonyan sniffs cracking into the top 3 tight ends of Hockenson, Oliver, and Mundt when Hockenson returns from injury.

That is the apex of what Tonyan will be, a place-holder TE3 while we await the return of true TE1. Even then, that depends on how much the coaching staff still loves Nick Muse, and if Tonyan can impress in camp more than Sammis Reyes and Trey Knox as well.

Robert Tonyan
Oct 9, 2022; London, United Kingdom; Green Bay Packers tight end Robert Tonyan (85) carries the ball in the second half against the New York Giants during an NFL International Series game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

What can we expect from this signing? In short, not a ton. He’s a “solid” NFL veteran that’s seen a thing or two in his time and has experienced high-level success in the league. A conservative guess would have Tonyan being on the roster until Hockenson makes his triumphant return (the popular belief seems to be around Week 7), and after that, he very well could be thanked for his service and relieved of his purple duties.

Editor’s Note: Statistics for this article were found via Pro Football Reference.