Nov 22, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew (87) catches a pass in the overtime of the Thanksgiving day game against the Houston Texans at Ford Field. Houston Texans defeated the Detroit Lions 34-31. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Will Better Tight Ends Bring out a Better Matthew Stafford?

Matthew Stafford’s progression seems to be a topic everywhere these days. We’ve detailed his highs and lows on this site as others have as well. One area that seems to be going under the radar is the effect the tight end position has had on his game.

As the old saying goes, a tight end is quarterback’s best friend. That’s exactly why the Lions drafted Brandon Pettigrew in 2009 and why they dipped backed into the well this year with Eric Ebron. Pettigrew has never panned out to be the consistent threat that the Lions drafted him to be, but even with his flaws he was still one of Stafford’s favorite targets outside of Calvin Johnson.

In 2011, by far Stafford’s most productive season as an NFL quarterback, the Lions offense also featured a second tight end in Tony Scheffler. Both combined for 168 targets (25% of pass attempts), 109 receptions, 1124 yards, and 11 touchdowns in 2011. Effective tight ends made for an effective quarterback. That year Stafford threw for over 5000 yards, 40 touchdowns, and had the fifth best completion percentage in the NFL.

But in the NFL, things can change fast. The 2012 and 2013 seasons brought with them a whole host of issues. Injuries and ineptitude at the tight end position didn’t help Stafford’s quest to repeat his 2011 greatness.

It’s clear the Lions have big plans for the tight end position this season. After resigning Brandon Pettigrew this offseason, they went out and drafted Eric Ebron in the first round to play the Jimmy Graham role in new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi’s offense.

Here’s a snapshot of what Graham’s role has been over the last three years:

Year Target Rec Yards TD
2013 134 86 1267 16
2012 131 85 982 9
2011 145 98 1468 11
Average 136.7 89.7 1239 12

He has averaged nearly 90 receptions on 140 targets over that three year period. Those numbers rival most teams’ #1 receiver. I’m not sure Ebron will quite live up to those numbers, but his projected total, along with Brandon Pettigrew and Joe Fauria’s, could be quite similar to the totals the Lions tight ends put up in 2011. And as a result, Stafford’s efficiency should climb back up.

The Lions have surrounded Matthew Stafford with loads of talent over the last two years. It’s now time for Stafford to step up and deliver consistently on an every week basis.

Tags: Brandon Pettigrew Detroit Lions Eric Ebron Matthew Stafford

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