Now that we’re in full offseason mode, we’re going to review every single Detroit Lions player that finished the 2016 season under contract. We’ll look at their expectations coming into the season, whether they met those expectations and what to expect of them going forward. We will begin with the upcoming free agents, as they are the most intriguing and time sensitive.
Expectations before 2016
It’s simple: There were none. When the Lions signed Andre Roberts back in June, he was widely considered to be a camp body. After all, Roberts hadn’t shown football fans much since the 2012 season when he caught 64 passes for 759 yards and five touchdowns with the Cardinals.
Actual role in 2016
2016 stats: 16 games (one start) | 14 catches, 188 yards, 1 TD | 33 kick returns, 747 yards (22.6 YPR) | 20 punt returns, 246 yards (12.3 YPR), 2 TDs
As a receiver, Andre Roberts was sub-par in 2016. He registered 14 receptions for 188 yards and a touchdown. Not very exciting. Where Roberts was able to shine for the Lions, however, was as their full-time return man.
While his play appeared to be below average most of the time, and he had an odd infatuation with not taking a knee when necessary early in the season, Roberts actually turned in a pretty good season. When I say pretty good, I mean he was actually one of the better returners in the NFL in 2016.
It’s weird to hear that, isn’t it? But it’s real. Roberts’ 747 kick return yards was fourth in the NFL. His average of 22.6 yards per return ranked eighth in the league. He also finished second in the league in number of kickoff returns, but that isn’t really a good thing.
On the punt return side of things, Roberts’ average of 12.3 yards per return ranked third in the NFL and he also had the second-longest punt return of the regular season, with an 85-yard scamper against the Bears. Roberts also finished tied for first in punt return touchdowns (2). Overall, he had a successful season on special teams.
Outlook for 2017
Contract status: Unrestricted Free Agent
The Lions quietly had a much improved season on special teams. Football Outsiders has the unit ranked sixth in the league in DVOA. Andre Roberts deserves a decent amount of credit for helping the Lions with that improvement, so it would make sense for the Lions to welcome him back with open arms.
But one has to wonder if the Lions decide to get younger at the position and continue to build the unit that way. Roberts is only 29 years old. But then again, he’s 29 years old. If the Lions do bring back Roberts—which I believe they will—look for his contract to be a short one that doesn’t have too many zeroes on it.