Detroit Lions Review and Offseason Plan: Tight Ends


Photo Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Today we take a look at how the Detroit Lions’ tight ends performed during the 2012 season with a little help from the fine folks at Pro Football Focus.

The radar chart below shows the Pro Football Focus grades for the Lions’ tight ends that played at least 25% of team snaps and compares them to the best, worst and league average ratings. PFF grades each player on each play to produce a massively useful tool for evaluating the totality of a player’s season compared to others at his position.

2012 Season Review
Your highest rated Detroit Lions tight end for the 2012 season is… Will Heller! And therein lies the problem with the Detroit Lions’ tight ends. It’s not a knock against Heller. He has done a fine job with what the Lions have asked him to do. It’s just that they should be getting more from the players they ask more from. Heller’s +2.4 pass block rating from Pro Football Focus was sixth best among tight ends that played at least 25% of team snaps. Season stats: 17 rec, 150 yards, 1 TD.

Tony Scheffler – Letj’s be honest, Tony Scheffler has one role on this team and that is to catch passes. He isn’t a prototypical tight end and he’ll be split out wide in most offensive sets. He provides value when he is making catches, ideally for first downs and touchdowns. He did just that in 2011 but not as much in 2012. His touchdown total fell from six to one and his percentage of catches going for first downs dropped from 77% in 2011 to 67% in 2012. Season stats: 42 rec, 504 yards, 1 TD.

Brandon Pettigrew – It was a rather forgettable season for Brandon Pettigrew. His ball security issues continued, both with drops and turnovers. He had costly fumbles against the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans that helped turn those games for the opponent and was among the tight end league leaders in drops. Injuries didn’t help as Pettigrew missed a couple games and lacked the ability to separate from defenders when he did play. In total, it came out to a -10 passing game rating from Pro Football Focus. Only Kellen Davis was worse. He was somewhat effective as a pass blocker (+1.6) but offset that with his run blocking (-1.6). Season stats: 59 rec, 567 yards, 3 TD.

Offseason Plan
Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler each have one year remaining on their contracts so they will both be back barring another front office search for change in the couch cushions. Scheffler will need to be counted on for a big role in the passing offense with injuries taking a toll on the Lions wide receiver depth. He is a one-dimensional tight end so he needs to excel in that dimension.

Pettigrew might be facing a make-or-break season in the last year of his rookie contract. It’s time to show that he can put the drops behind him and, more importantly, not fumble the ball once he has made a catch. The selection of Brandon Pettigrew was sold to the fans as a pick that would help the Lions in the running game and passing game. Pettigrew’s problems in the passing game are well documented but it has been two full season since Pettigrew could be seen as an asset to the Lions’ ground attack. Injuries are partly to blame for limiting Pettigrew’s effectiveness in 2012. This offseason is all about getting healthy in hopes of proving to the Lions that they can count on him as part of their team going forward.

Ideally, Pettigrew is the do-everything tight end the Lions envisioned when they drafted him but he hasn’t been that yet so Will Heller’s role has been more important than it probably should be. He was the team’s best blocking tight end in 2012 and showed the ability to catch the football once in a while. The Lions should be able to easily bring him back at a low cost, but might be wise to do so only after seeing if they can add Alabama tight end Michael Williams as a very late draft choice.

Previously: Wide Receivers, Offensive Tackles, Guards, Center

*Those that have been around the Detroit Lions blogosphere for a while may recognize the approach presented as similar to Ty Schalter’s ‘Old Mother Hubbard’ series on The Lions in Winter. Don’t worry, he’s cool with what I’m doing here and has assured me that he’ll be back with Old Mother Hubbard later in the offseason.