If you are looking for a sleeper to root for when the Detroit Lions’ training camp begins, you might want to watch this former quarterback-turned receiver-turned tight end.
Since 2009, the Detroit Lions have invested two first round picks on tight ends. So clearly, it’s a position that is important to this Lion’ organization. But Detroit has yet to find a true impact player at that critical spot, and their search continues.
Former tight end Brandon Pettigrew was drafted 20th overall in the 2009 NFL Draft by the Lions. After six seasons of mediocre play, the 31-year old Pettigrew was waived by Detroit last December.
The Lions’ tried their hand again at another first round tight end in 2014, selecting North Carolina’s Eric Ebron 10th overall. Although the 24-year old’s play is improving, he has yet to fulfill the potential many imagine him having three years ago as a top-ten selection.
This offseason, the Lions used a fourth round selection on Toldeo’s Michael Roberts. A one-year starter, Roberts’ offensive upside is evident as he racked up a whopping 16 touchdown receptions his senior year at Toldeo. But he is also a developmental project who must learn how to block in the NFL as well as improve his route running.
Blocking will not be an issue for 6-foot-7, 281 pound veteran tight end Darren Fells, whom the Lions signed as a free agent back in March to a one-year, $1.5 million deal. The 31-year old Fells figures to bookend Ebron in two tight end sets as well as boost Detroit’s running game.
With Ebron, Fells and Roberts already on the depth chart, you may think there is no more room for a possible hidden gem to sneak onto this Detroit roster. But according to one Lions’ insider, there is one undrafted rookie free agent that is quietly flying under-the-radar.
"“If you’re looking for an under-the-radar guy to watch at the position, consider Robert Tonyan, an undrafted rookie out of Indiana State,” wrote Kyle Meinke for Mlive.com. “He has really good athleticism, and speared a few nice catches during OTAs. He could work his way into the mix, although with three other players basically guaranteed jobs at the position, he seems like a better bet for the practice squad.”"
The 6-foot-5, 220 pound Tonyan Jr. played quarterback at Indiana State in 2013. The following season, he made the switch to wide receiver. Tonyan recorded 56 receptions, 699 yards and 10 touchdowns his senior year. Now he is attempting to make the switch from college receiver to NFL tight end.
Expect Tonyan to make some noise in training camp as an offensive weapon as he possesses size and ball skills to be an excellent receiving tight end, especially out of the slot. But his slight frame makes him a liability as a blocker and it could severely limit his chances of making the 53-man roster in Detroit. Still, Tonyan’s abilities as a receiver make him a possible sleeper to keep an eye on for the next couple of months.