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Packers TE Dominique Dafney proving to be reliable in a pinch 

Former undrafted prospect’s ascension has been “a great surprise” for Packers

TE Dominique Dafney & RB AJ Dillon
TE Dominique Dafney & RB AJ Dillon

GREEN BAY – Coming out of Indiana State last year, Dominique Dafney admits he was neither a 6-foot-6 phenom nor a blazing 4.3 receiver.

If he was going to make it in the NFL, the 6-2, 243-pound tight end knew he would need to rely on his work ethic and versatility. No different than what Dafney's done at nearly every level of football he's played.

"The fact that I block well, run routes, can do all these things … that I am versatile, I figured I'm going to have to use that in order to get to where I want to be," Dafney said.

"I'm going to have to use everything I've been able to do in my past and put it all together in order to get to where I want to go."

But first, Dafney needed someone to take a chance on his talent, and 2020 was not exactly a great year for an undrafted free agent trying to catch on with a team while the NFL remained locked down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

After a six-month wait that included a brief stint as a bouncer at a bar in Des Moines, Iowa, Dafney finally got his big break when signed to the Packers' practice squad on Oct. 12. Within two months, he was called up to the gameday roster.

This summer, Dafney proved his unlikely ascension was no fluke. He not only made the Packers' 53-man roster earlier this month, Dafney also played a career-high 29 offensive snaps in Green Bay's 35-17 win over the Detroit Lions.

Dafney didn't have a catch against the Lions but made his presence was felt. Stepping in for an injured Josiah Deguara, Dafney did a little of everything as the team's "F" tight end.

He blocked out of the backfield, chipped edge rushers, and provided the seal block on Aaron Jones' 4-yard touchdown off a push pass in the first quarter.

"He's done a lot of good things for us, man. He's somebody that, we can rely on him," receiver Davante Adams said.

"I call him 'Charles Barkley,' because he's kind of built like him a little bit, like a thicker guy but he's kind of compact. Pack a decent punch for a younger guy and then he's really athletic, too. I think much more athletic than people give him credit for."

Asked about Adams' comparison on Thursday, the soft-spoken Dafney smiled and said he took it as a compliment. "I mean, league MVP, right?" Dafney said, referring to Barkley's 1993 NBA honor. "Of course, I'll definitely take that."

Nickname or no nickname, Dafney has been an essential find for Green Bay, especially given how important the utility tight end is to Head Coach Matt LaFleur's offense.

The Packers invested a third-round pick in Deguara a year ago to fill that, but those plans had to be adjusted after the former Cincinnati standout tore his anterior cruciate ligament last October against Atlanta.

Former Princeton quarterback John Lovett was supposed to be the next man up but then he also was lost to a torn ACL in November, which then led to Dafney's elevation.

On Dec. 12, two months to the day he was signed to the practice squad, Dafney was officially added to Green Bay's active roster. Two weeks later, he'd catch his first touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers in the Packers' regular-season finale against Chicago.

Deguara has since returned from the torn ACL but missed last week's game against the Lions after suffering a concussion in Green Bay's opener against New Orleans. Pressed into action, Dafney once again answered the bell.

"Watching him out there, it's not too big for him," offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. "He's aggressive, he understands what to do, he understands angles and has some good ability. Even, you look back at that Chicago game, that touchdown he caught, I mean, who would have thought when we started the season? So, it's been a great surprise."

Dafney has enjoyed soaking in as much information as possible from veterans Marcedes Lewis and Robert Tonyan, who's also an Indiana State alum though the two didn't play together.

Despite a significant size difference between the two, the 6-foot-6, 267-pound Lewis has been a huge asset for Dafney from a blocking standpoint. The 16-year veteran has remained an open book, always willing to give a tip or two on his strongest trait.

"Every time 'Cedes has something to say with anything, I tap in," Dafney said. "But definitely, when he talks about blocking, he gets chills, and then of course I'm back there writing everything down. So I'm like, 'I'm going to use that … I'm going to use that, too.'"

The Packers remain high on Deguara, who returned to practice this week in a limited capacity and could be back on the field as soon as this Sunday night's game against the San Francisco 49ers. But Dafney also has been a good insurance policy.

Whatever happens, Dafney will be ready. He just wants to play football. It doesn't matter if it comes on offense, defense or even special teams.

"I think it's just, just a part of knowing your role," Dafney said. "We all want to play, we all want to start, and we all want to catch touchdowns.

"But, like, first and foremost, I want to win. So if me having to block 300-pound dudes who are 6-8, 6-9 with extremely long arms, if that's what I have to do so we can win, then I'm going to do it because I love winning."