The Tight End Position Is One Of The Most Improved Positions For The Lions.
As the talk of final 53-man rosters heats up going into preseason, there is a lot of talk about how many players the Detroit Lions will keep at certain positions. Will the Lions keep three quarterbacks? How many wide receivers are rostered? Something interesting to consider, given the light usage of multiple tight ends over the last couple years, is that there may be four Lions’ tight ends on the roster come week one.
Last year, tight end was a position of issue for the Detroit Lions. The Lions had Eric Ebron and basically no body else that helped contribute. The Lions went out and signed Andrew Quarless, despite the no tolerance policy that Bob Quinn had spoken of regarding gun and domestic violence infractions. This should give an idea as to how desperate the Lions were at the position.
Eric Ebron has never been a good blocking tight end. He has never been an above average blocking tight end. He has never even been an adequate blocking tight end. Eric Ebron’s advantage comes with his size and athleticism that create match-up problems for the defense. Tight ends like that need a complementary piece to really flourish within an offense. Having blocking capabilities from the tight end position is important to running the football, and it is important to keeping defenses honest.
To rectify the situation, the Lions added free agent Darren Fells from the Arizona Cardinals. He excels in blocking, and he showed serious ability in the receiving game. As a former basketball player, he has size and he also showed that he has sure hands and can make possession catches over the course of a strong training camp.
The Detroit Lions also added Michael Roberts from Toledo. He is a big, strong target with nice hands that can help in both the blocking and receiving player. Ideally, Michael Roberts can slip into the Brandon Pettigrew role from a couple of years ago. As a rookie tight end, he will need time to acclimate himself, but he showed flashes of ability during his training camp and has excellent college tape to back up his skill set.
The other two tight ends of note are Cole Wick, a camp darling last year who had his season end due to a knee injury, and Khari Lee undrafted free agent from 2016 that has made his way from the Houston Texans to the Chicago Bears to the Detroit Lions.
The Detroit Lions are clearly looking to use a blocking tight end more often. That is why they added the new pieces to the offense. Could this mean that four Lions’ tight ends make the roster. Four Lions’ tight ends would add versatility to the offense and open up Eric Ebron to be a mismatch rather than a blocking component.
Four Lions’ tight ends would allow for more heavy sets around the goal line. It would allow Ebron to play as a big slot receiver in the red zone while still adding a blocking piece to the offensive line. Four Lions’ tight ends would give depth to a position that the hasn’t had depth since Joseph Fauria played for the team.
With only three tight ends, you are looking at Eric Ebron, a blocking specialist, and player to provide depth for both of them. If the team decided to run any heavy sets that used Ebron as a big receiver and utilized two tight ends on the goal line, the entire tight end group would be on the field.
Adding a another player to the position group would help alleviate some of the pressure depth wise as well as take some pressure off the rookie Michael Roberts.
Eric Ebron will continue to be the mismatch at the tight end position and should see more work this year than he saw last year.
Michael Roberts showed well in camp, he had draft capital invested in him and he is a good player. Facts aside, my personal opinion is that Michael Roberts is going to develop into a really nice asset over the next few years for the Detroit Lions.
Darren Fells has had about the best camp you could hope for from a free agent tight end. He has caught the ball well. He has blocked well. Fells has had an all-around really nice couple of days of training camp.
Will there be four Lions’ tight ends on the roster? It is possible. If so, that spot will likely be filled by Cole Wick or Khari Lee. The Lions’ use of a fullback in training camp, by players who don’t traditionally play the position, certainly opens the door for four Lions’ tight ends. This is going to be a battle through preseason that is going to be worth watching.