Rodgers gave a special shout-out to Packers tight end Dominique Dafney on Tuesday after the undrafted rookie caught his first career touchdown during Sunday’s win over the Chicago Bears. Dafney’s 13-yard reception marked a notable milestone for a player who has spent less than three months with the Packers and just three weeks on the active roster.
“Nobody knew who he was a few weeks ago,” Rodgers said unprompted about Dafney on The Pat McAfee Show before going on to describe how their touchdown play unfolded:
“I adjusted the play at the line and I look right and I thought he was going to wrap around (Bears linebacker Danny) Trevathan on the play and he kind of did this weird stutter step and went inside and then on top of 55 on the backside. It actually worked out perfect, but I was pretty happy for him. He’s made so many damn plays at practice. He really has been incredible. And you just watch him going, ‘Oh, we actually need to get this guy involved in what we’re doing.’ He’s been getting a few more plays, last week he made his first catch, and I’m just really happy for him.”
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Dafney Capitalizing on Opportunities
Dafney has been a benefactor of both hard work and injury opportunities during his short time in Green Bay. The Packers initially signed him to the practice squad on Oct. 12 after third-round rookie Josiah Deguara had sustained a season-ending ACL injury and found an even greater motive to explore his utility once fullback/tight end John Lovett was injured in mid-November.
Dafney made his NFL debut as a practice-squad elevation in Week 13 against the Philadelphia Eagles, playing six snaps on offense and five on special teams. He received one more temporary promotion in Week 14 and has since played in every game for the Packers, signing his 53-man roster contract on Dec. 12 to reinforce the position as Jace Sternberger worked back from a concussion.
Now, after a pair of catches for 26 yards and a touchdown, Dafney has a growing role in a playoff-bound Packers offense that will have an additional week to prepare its postseason playbook. Head coach Matt LaFleur also sounded inspired by his young tight end when speaking with reporters on Monday, saying:
“He’s been a big boost for us, very smart player. You’d never know he’s a rookie. He can handle a lot. The game’s not too big for him, and that’s evident. When he walks into that huddle, there’s no doubt he knows he belongs and it’s evident by the play on the field. What’s so awesome (about Dafney) is when you see a guy catch a touchdown and then the very next play run down on kickoff and knock the crap out of the kick returner. That is awesome.”
Will Sternberger Reclaim Reps When Healthy?
One of the factors that set the stage for Dafney’s first touchdown grab on Sunday was the Packers’ decision to rule out Sternberger, a 2019 third-round pick, in the pregame despite him being cleared to play in the injury report.
LaFleur said Monday the healthy scratch was partially based on Sternberger only having a week to practice after missing three games with a concussion, but he also indicated a direct comparison between his two tight ends had some impact.
“Sometimes you’ve got to make some tough decisions, and a lot of that will come down to special teams typically when you’re looking at who you want to play in that position,” LaFleur said. “So Jace is a guy we still have a lot of confidence in, and we have to get him re-acclimated to what we’re doing.”
Sternberger caught 12 of his 15 targets for 114 yards and a touchdown during his first full regular season in 2020 but heads into his second postseason in an ambiguous place. If he is back in full swing for the divisional round and makes some plays, he could push Dafney back to No. 4 on the depth chart and improve his standing for next season. Anything less, though, could jeopardize his future in the tight end room moving into the 2021 season.