Examining Lions Free Agent Addition, Luke Willson.
Tight End, drafted in the fifth round of the 2013 draft out of Rice
Height: 6’5″ Weight: 251 lbs
NFL Experience: Five seasons with the Seattle Seahawks
Career Stats: 72 games played (37 started), 89 receptions for 1129 yards (12.7 yards/reception), 11 touchdowns, career long reception of 80 yards
Postseason Stats: 9 games played (5 started), 13 receptions for 154 yards (11.8 yards/reception), 1 touchdown
Size and Athleticism
Luke Willson is a massive human being. At the NFL combine, he measured 6’5″ and weighed 251 pounds. However, what makes him a high upside player is the athleticism he possess to go along with his size. He also ran a 4.46 second 40 yard dash and rerecorded a 38 inch vertical jump at the 2013 combine. Willson is a freak of nature, and here are some examples of how he utilizes that on the football field.
This play does a great job of showing Willson’s finesse despite being so big. He lines up as a receiver, and catches a quick pass against the Carolina Panthers. Despite there being three Panthers that had a shot at tackling them, Willson is fast enough to get away from all of them and into the endzone.
Here, Willson shows off his size and good hands to make a tough catch. He is much larger than the linebacker he is playing against, so quarterback Russell Willson has lots of room to fit the ball in on a back shoulder fade. Willson is able to turn around and make a spectacular catch while going to the ground.
This play just shows off the speed of Luke Willson. Willson was lined up against an Arizona Cardinal safety, who obviously underestimated how fast he was. Because of this, Willson blows right by the entire secondary and gets wide open for an 80 yard touchdown reception. In terms of pure speed, this guy has to be one of the fastest tight ends in the entire NFL, not many people his size can blow by NFL safeties.
Willson’s biggest criticism in Seattle was his bad habit of dropping passes. Willson seems to have actually improved in this area of the last couple years though, dropping only three passes in that time (a big reason for this could be because the Seahawks traded for tight end Jimmy Graham, and Willson played backup to Graham over those seasons). However, Seahawks fans won’t forget his 2014 campaign in which he dropped four passes while being targeted 40 times, a drop rate of 10%. Here is an example of a bad drop from Willson.
This came in week 17 of last year, when the Seahawks played the Cardinals. On third down, just outside of the redzone and losing by nine points in the fourth quarter, Russell Wilson found Luke Willson wide open inside of the 10 on a wheel route. All Willson has to do is make this uncontested catch, and the Hawks could be right back in the game. Instead, he bobbles the ball and is unable to haul it in, despite no contact from defenders. Willson needs to get over these kinds of concentration drops to be a productive member of an NFL passing game.
Lack of Production
Luke Willson simply doesn’t have the production for what you’re looking for in a starting tight end. Over his career, he averages 18 receptions for 226 yards and 2 touchdowns per season. While those are respectable numbers, they are not ideal for a starting tight end.
Willson does have excuses for this, such as having to sit behind former All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham over the last three seasons. Still, his career best season was in 2014 (the year before the arrival of Graham) when he made only 22 catches for 362 yards and 3 touchdowns.
This is not to say that Willson cannot obliterate his career totals with the Lions in 2018, he absolutely has the potential to. It’s just somewhat unsettling knowing he has never produced on the level that many will expect him to in the coming season.
Expectations For 2018
If the season started today, Luke Willson would be the starting tight end for the Detroit Lions. He has the most playing experience of any tight end on the Lions roster, and has shown the ability to be a good player in Seattle.
However, the season does not start today, it starts in roughly four months. A lot will happen over that time, including training camp and preseason football. Over this time, Willson will be competing with second year tight end Michael Roberts and another Lions free agent addition, Levine Toilolo, for the starting tight end spot.
So, while it’s safe to say Willson has the inside track on becoming the Lions starting tight end, a lot can change over the summer.
Previous Free Agent Profiles: DeShawn Shead