We are just a few short weeks away from the start of Detroit Lions training camp, which means position battles, cuts, and much more. Over the next two weeks, Aaron Meckes and I will preview each position group and give predictions of who you’ll see starting in the Honolulu Blue come Week one.
In 2011 the Lions had one of the most productive and promising pair of tight ends in the NFL in Brandon Pettigrew, who caught 83 passes for 777 yards and five touchdowns, and Tony Scheffler, who hauled in six touchdowns. In 2012 the dynamic tight ends saw significant dips in their stats. Pettigrew caught 24 less passes resulting in over a 200 yard reduction and just three touchdowns, while Scheffler found the end zone just once. If the Lions hope to make the playoffs in 2013 they are going to have to have a significant increase in production from their tight ends, who control the middle of the field.
Let’s take a look at how the depth chart might look at tight end by the start of the 2013 season:
1. Brandon Pettigrew- Coming off the most disappointing season of his career, Brandon Pettigrew has a lot to prove. He was among the league leaders in dropped passes and made costly turnovers late in games against the Texans and Titans which resulted in one score losses for the Lions. He’s been maddeningly inconsistent; at times looking like a top ten tight end that is invaluable in the middle of the field and then he misses very catchable balls or makes a great catch just to have it stripped away. Players like Pettigrew make fans and coaches cringe, because they are so talented, but they seem to never be able to put it together. It’s a contract year for Pettigrew, if he wants a long-term deal he has to be a consistent threat across the middle and entering year five there are no excuses for him not to produce. I expect an 75-80 catch season for the all-around tight end.
2. Joseph Fauria- Fauria is either going to be the second tight end on the depth chart or a practice squad participant as the Lions will likely only retain three tight ends on the roster. With Tony Scheffler possessing a similar skillset to Fauria it looks as if one of these two will be left off the 53-man roster. Because of Fauria’s ability to make catches in tight coverage, his size, and his upside, I expect Fauria to beat out Tony Scheffler in training camp. Fauria will also be friendlier to the Lions salary cap than Scheffler.
3. Michael Williams- The Lions drafted Williams in the seventh round of the 2013 draft for a specific purpose, fill the hole left by Will Heller and play the H-back position. With that said, it’s almost a given that he makes the roster and because of his elite blocking skills and the Lions inability to run in the past, Williams is exactly what the Lions need at tight end. Expect to see Williams in red zone formations, playing H-back, and in two tight end sets.
Tony Scheffler, Matt Veldman are the odd men out, but don’t count out Veldman entirely. While it may seem unlikely that the Lions keep four tight ends, it is worth pointing out that the Lions signed Bobby Johnson to coach the tight ends and soon signed Veldman who Johnson coached last season in Jacksonville. Veldman may end up on the practice squad, but there’s also a chance the Lions have a specific purpose for him in 2013.
I have Scheffler losing a tight battle with undrafted rookie Fauria, but instead of losing Scheffler for nothing I’d like the Lions to throw his name out in the trade waters. Perhaps a team like the Patriots who are decimated at the position may be willing to part ways with a mid to late round draft pick, although the chances of that happening are slim as they could just opt to sign Scheffler after the Lions part ways with him.
I love what the Lions did with the tight end position this offseason. They drafted a player with more upside than Will Heller in Michael Williams to fill the H-back role and they brought in a younger and bigger version of Tony Scheffler in Joseph Fauria. The difference from 2012 to 2013 is clear. The Lions are bringing in competition to make themselves better instead of settling what they have, which they hope will lead to more production from their tight ends and more wins for the team. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the Lions have a top five tight end unit in 2013.