Detroit Lions: Which tight end will step up in 2018?
The Detroit Lions appear to have a major need at tight end. Yet, the team seems satisfied with the position going into training camp. Will anyone stand out?
Last season, tight ends were targeted 119 times within the Detroit Lions offense. This positional unit recorded 74 receptions for 797 yards and seven scores.
Yet, this offseason, the Lions released starter Eric Ebron after four years. The former first rounder could never quite live up to his draft status. His primary backup, veteran tight end Darren Fells, was lost to the Cleveland Browns via free agency.
That left the Lions with 2017 fourth rounder Michael Roberts topping their depth chart. Roberts recorded just four catches for 46 yards during his entire rookie season.
The departure of Ebron and Fells left a lot of snaps on the table in 2018. And the Lions needed more than just Roberts to pick them up. Therefore Detroit signed veteran free agent tight ends Luke Willson and Levine Toilolo to help pick up the slack.
Both Roberts and Willson earned positive reviews through OTAs and minicamp. Still, according to Mike O’Hara of DetroitLions.com, none of the current tight ends on the roster appear to be standing out.
"“Stafford hasn’t had a high-volume receiver at tight end since Brandon Pettigrew had receiving totals of 71, 83 and 59 catches and 12 TDs from 2010-12. Nobody in this season’s group has shown that he will come close to that production. Whatever they accomplish is likely to be as a group effort, but there’s an opportunity for someone to take a leap forward.”"
The Lions starting tight end job looks to be a toss-up between Roberts and Willson. Both should see significant minutes regardless.
Of the two, the 24-year old Roberts has the most upside as a receiver. The second-year tight end was a one-year wonder for Toledo, posting 45 receptions for 533 yards and 16 touchdowns in his lone season as a starter. With another offseason program under his belt, Detroit has to hope Roberts has had enough training to better acclimate to the NFL.
Willson brings five-years of NFL experience with him from the Seattle Seahawks. Although the former fifth-round selection out of Rice in 2013 has never recorded more than 22 catches in a single season as a pro, the 28-year old did post a career-high four receiving touchdowns in 2017. And it’s as an endzone target where the 6-foot-5, 254 pound Willson may excel in Detroit.
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The Detroit Lions have many questions left unanswered when it comes to the position of tight end in the Motor City. Hopefully, they will have some answers after players like Michael Roberts, Luke Willson and Levine Toilolo compete and train this summer.