Dominique Dafney's emergence embodies 'the beauty of this game'

Undrafted rookie has come out of nowhere to play key spot in Packers’ offense

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TE Dominique Dafney

GREEN BAY – The "F" position in the Packers' offense is unique.

The individual in that role is equal parts tight end, fullback, H-back and even receiver, at times. The work is often unheralded, but Green Bay felt so highly about the importance of the position in Head Coach Matt LaFleur's offense that it invested a third-round pick in Cincinnati's Josiah Deguara last spring.

Deguara showed immediate promise, starting the Packers' regular-season opener against Minnesota, before sustaining a season-ending knee injury against Atlanta in Week 4.

His understudy, former Princeton quarterback John Lovett, filled in admirably in Deguara's stead before he, too, was lost for the season to a knee injury.

That sent Green Bay to its Plan C: Dominique Dafney.

The former Indiana State receiver has come out of nowhere to play an essential role in the offense. Billed as a quick study, Dafney needed just 13 weeks to go from signing to Green Bay's practice squad on Oct. 12 to catching a touchdown from Aaron Rodgers in Sunday's pivotal regular-season finale in Chicago.

Rodgers, in his postgame Zoom call on Sunday, was asked by local reporter Rob Demovsky about the contributions the offense has received from players not named Davante Adams and Aaron Jones down the stretch and a smile quickly formed on the two-time MVP quarterback's face.

"Dominique Dafney, who would have called that one, Rob?" asked Rodgers, rhetorically. "Not you and not me back in September. That's the beauty in this game."

That's because back in September, Dafney wasn't even on an NFL roster – let alone the Packers'. After spending two seasons on Iowa's special-teams units, Dafney transferred to Indiana State to play his senior season.

Listed as a receiver, Dafney finished second on the Sycamores with 439 rushing yards after he began carrying the ball out of a wildcat formation during Indiana State's final four games. He scored seven touchdowns (six rushing, one receiving) and made the All-Missouri Valley Conference second team as a fullback.

Limited mainstream exposure seemed to hurt his draft stock. Dafney not only went undrafted last April, he didn't even sign an NFL contract until Aug. 26, when Indianapolis brought him in with less than a week remaining in an already truncated training camp. He was cut 13 days later.

One month after that, General Manager Brian Gutekunst and the Packers' scouting department brought the 6-foot-2, 243-pound tight end in for a workout…and eventually signed him to the practice squad the day after Deguara tore his anterior cruciate ligament in Atlanta.

"You've got to give credit to Gutey and our scouting department for finding Dafney," LaFleur said. "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 in that huddle, there's no doubt he knows he belongs, and it's evident by the play on the field."

After first being elevated to the gameday roster in Week 13 against Philadelphia, Dafney was signed to the Packers' 53 on Dec. 12. He played 112 snaps (68 offense, 44 special teams) in five December games, with the high-water mark coming in the second quarter Sunday with his 13-yard TD grab from Rodgers.

What stood out to LaFleur the most were the unselfishness and versatility Dafney demonstrated on the ensuing kickoff, when the former Iowa special-teams standout ran down and dropped Pro Bowl returner Cordarrelle Patterson at the Chicago 29.

"That's what this is all about is watching young guys develop and get an opportunity and make the most of it," LaFleur said. "He's a guy we're super excited about. I think (tight ends coach) Justin Outten's done an outstanding job really developing everybody in that room. So, just really excited about his future."

As that essential "F" in Green Bay's offense, Dafney will be an important offensive chess piece for the Packers this postseason – not only because of his flexibility to play multiple positions regardless of the formation, but also how Dafney's versatility frees up Marcedes Lewis and fellow Indiana State alumnus Robert Tonyan to do what they do best in LaFleur's scheme.

While Dafney is asked to wear a lot of hats, his ability to handle it all is what's kept that extra layer in Green Bay's offense that might have otherwise been lost without Deguara.

"'Daf' is one of the most versatile dudes I've been around, and I've been around a lot of players who've done a lot for this team," Adams said. "He's just a confident dude having fun out there. You can see when he scored, when he makes a block for somebody, just real unselfish and that goes a long way in this league and does a lot for our team."

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