Brandon Pettigrew (Round 1, Pick 20)
As our second pick in the 1st round, Pettigrew became a polarizing pick for the fans. Many didn’t think we should spend the 20th overall pick on a "luxury" position such as a TE. Before I get into the numbers I wanted to make the case for Pettigrew and for the TE/FB position. I truly believe they are the most underrated and undervalued positions in the game. Not only do you have to be one of the smartest players on the field but you also need to learn how to block like a lineman and catch like a receiver (or hold/run the ball for a FB). This is why most tight ends take time to develop (i.e. Vernon Davis). Pettigrew’s size (6’-5" 265lbs. including a 35" arm length) and skill set are a coach’s dream. Because of his size he acts like an extra O-lineman; his arm length is an advantage when going against quick defense ends and outside linebackers. You know he's doing his job when they pull him in to reinforce the pocket - protect the quarterback - and nobody gets through. He is also doing his job when the running back is using him as moving wall, shadowing his push and shifting out for a big gain. At OSU (according to CBSsports.com report on Pettigrew): "he paced the league's tight ends with 10 touchdown-resulting blocks and also made a solo tackle." If the TE actually manages to get the ball in his hands and grab some yardage, so much the better. You know he's not when he can't move the ball and he can't block the blitz.
His OSU receiving career was pretty good: he had 112 receptions for 1,450 yards and 9 TDs – and one major injury (struggled to get over a high ankle sprain). Although OSU ran a spread offense, they also ran the ball 50 times a game, making his numbers that more significant. As a Lion in 2009, the injury bug only allowed Pettigrew to play 9 games. He initially got injured in training camp and had a season ending injury (left ACL) in the Green Bay game. Here are Pettigrew’s numbers last season: he had 30 receptions (he was targeted 55 times, stats via www.advancednflstats.com) for 346 yards (11.5 avg.) with a longest of 30 yards and 2 TDs. His two best games were against Seattle and Cleveland where he totaled 13 receptions for 142 yards and 2 TDs. If Pettigrew were able to play a full season (7 more games!), he could have arguably been amongst the top 10 tight ends in the league (especially considering our talentless WR corps last season).
What I’m more interested in is how well he performed in the running game or in pass protection. I know I’m starting to tread in murky statistical waters here, but we can get an idea when we consider our total ground game for the season. The Lions in 2009 had 1,616 yards (4.0YD avg.) for 9 TDs ranking them 24th in the league (bad, but not horrible). For the Lions, K.Smith is not a scat-back but rather a power back, so all we were trying to do was gain enough yardage inside to secure easy/safe 3rd down plays. Therefore, most of the runs tended to stay inside and our inside power rating (percentage of rushes on 3rd or 4th down with 2 or fewer yards to go that achieved a first down or TD, also includes rushes on 1st-and-goal and 2nd-and-goal from the opponent's 2-yard line or closer.) was a 75 – tying us for 5th highest in the league! The runs that bounced out to the left or right (since Pettigrew lined up in multiple formations) were fairly successful (ranking us between 8th and 12th in +10 yard gains), but also resulted in much higher negative yard attempts and lower power ratings (these stats via www.nfl.com). What this starts to tell me is our run game is not as anemic as we might assume, though we did have some lapses on the edge. In fact, if our defense could have made some stops and allowed us to play evenly (instead of from behind) our running game could have been an asset. Of course Smith’s injury and inconsistent play hurt us, but we might have been on to something. It also seems that Pettigrew was OK in the run game, but because we didn’t rely on it as much as other teams, it’s hard to draw anything definite about his rookie production. His pass protection also needs work. If anyone can help me get some more stats on offensive lines (including TEs and FBs) we might be able to do be more conclusive here.
Nate Burleson (WR) – The idea here is basically in regards to improving our overall WR corps. If our WRs can stretch the field, take on double teams, make linebackers and safeties second guess routes, then Pettigrew can get open for a dump off and a +6 yard gain. If Pettigrew is handled by a corner, it is likely he will get shut down (unless it’s a jump ball), yet a linebacker or strong safety might not be able to pull him down right away (this is where his size is a really valuable commodity in the NFL). The addition of better WRs makes his receiving skills less important but still necessary in case of blitzes and end zone situations. The overall improvement of the WRs will help Pettigrew concentrate on run blocking and picking up blitzes, and if is open in the flat, then sweet.
Tony Scheffler (TE) – Again the best thing for Pettigrew this offseason was the addition of Scheffler. Mainly because it takes off a lot of pressure to perform from being a 1st round pick. The idea here is that he concentrates on the run game, gets open on play actions, or becomes a large end zone target. Scheffler's stats are great in the pass game: 31 receptions for 416 yards and 2 TDs – in an offense where he was 2nd on the depth chart. The thing about Scheffler is that he is a deep threat - he was targeted 28% on deep throws, ranking 2nd in the league among TEs (after Mercedes Lewis and before Greg Olsen). He is also a good route runner and I wouldn’t be surprised if he lined up in the slot once in a while.
Jahvid Best (RB - 1st round pick) – In this situation it’s more about what Pettigrew can do for Best then what Best can do for Pettigrew. Pettigrew must use his lateral quickness and arm length to open up lanes to the outside that Best loves (see Cal YouTube videos). In those Cal videos, you can see Best has elite vision, but that’s only possible because there are blocks in front of him to weave through and make decisions on which side to bust open. Let’s hop on the positive bandwagon for a minute: Best has the ability to be the next Barry (watch the videos, seriously) – but we cannot make the same mistake! He needs blocking, and not all that much – just enough to break the line of scrimmage. In the open field the guy is a tornado, it takes literally 2 people to bring him down, that’s how fast he is. And again in most of his 20+ yard runs it’s not a contingent of O-lineman bulldozing a path for him; its one key block near the line – that’s Pettigrew’s assignment next season.
I have to add this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RlkrumgWB6o&feature=related – in this legendary 93-ard TD run, Best gets a great block from #33 (Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson – Freshman) shifts direction, brakes 456 tackles and takes it to the house... I want one.
As I said in my previous post, our TE trio (Pettigrew, Heller, and Scheffler) could be the best in the NFL. BTW, Heller had 29 receptions for 296 yards and 3 TDs. So, in terms of receiving production, I would like for Pettigrew to be in the 30-40 receptions range (considering he plays all 16 games), have about 500 yards receiving and about 6 TDs. I also expect Scheffler to do the same, maybe with more receptions + yards and fewer TDs. But as I alluded to earlier, the run blocking from Pettigrew should be noticeable this year (pass blocking also needs improvement - it was bad in the Minnesota game). Using his size, he needs to push the line and create holes for our RBs. It will be a really good thing if, after a run, we see Pettigrew up 5-8 yards from the line of scrimmage. This lets us know he is getting a push, taking care of his blocking assignment and creating running lanes. He has the potential to be the difference maker in the run game and I hope he steps up to that challenge.