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2017 Detroit Lions roster review: TE Michael Roberts poised for a big jump in 2018

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After losing their top two tight ends in free agency, the Lions may be relying heavily on Roberts in 2018.

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NFL: Detroit Lions at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

No player on the Detroit Lions’ roster may have been impacted more from the first week of free agency than tight end Michael Roberts. The two players above him on the depth chart are now set to play elsewhere in 2018, leaving a big opportunity for Roberts to make a huge impact in 2018. But is that the plan for the Lions? Let’s take a look at his career thus far and expectations for next season.

Michael Roberts

Expectations for 2017

As a fourth-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Roberts wasn’t expected to come in and immediately dethrone Eric Ebron at the top of the depth chart. In fact, with the free agency addition of Darren Fells, it was clear Roberts was entering the season as the third-best tight end.

However, in Roberts’ senior season at Toledo, he pulled in 16 touchdowns. That left a certain expectation for Roberts to, at the very least, be a red zone threat as early as his rookie year. There was obviously some belief that Roberts’ role would gradually increase as the season went on, and there was hope for a handful of touchdowns in 2017, seeing as he has monstrously-sized hands.

Actual role in 2017

2017 stats: 15 games (3 starts): 4 catches, 46 yards
PFF grade: 68.4 (below average)

Though Roberts received a fair amount of snaps in his rookie year (just under 15 per game), his impact was not nearly as big as many had hoped. He was only targeted seven times all year, and he wasn’t at all a red zone threat.

He didn’t really see an increased role until Week 15, when he played a season-high 26 of 63 snaps. Unfortunately, his rookie season came to a concerning end, when he slept through a team meeting the day before the season finale and was made a healthy scratch on Sunday. That was the only game he missed all year.

Outlook for 2018

Contract status: Signed through 2020

As alluded to before, Roberts’ role in 2018 could be drastically changed based on what the Lions have already done in free agency. Eric Ebron was surprisingly released, leaving a huge receiving role to be assumed. Despite his impressive senior year at Toledo, Roberts isn’t the kind of guy to take on Ebron’s role. He’s nowhere near as athletic as Ebron, but his blocking is much better:

So if he’s not an Ebron replacement, what is the Lions’ plan for him? Well, they’re certainly sending mixed messages to the media. Take Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. Here’s what he had to say this week about the Lions’ current tight end situation:

The team has indicated to players its hosted that it plans to both sign a veteran and add a draft pick at the position this offseason.

The Lions have already hosted four different tight ends for visits this offseason, so there’s at least some truth here. However, contrast that with what MLive’s Kyle Meinke said about Roberts in this week’s mailbag:

So, again, Roberts is going to have to be ready for an expanded role.

Now here’s the good news: Detroit is really high on his future. Really high. The people upstairs think they have a good one in the second-year pro. Sure, he caught just four passes as a rookie. But, again, tight end is difficult to play in Year 1. Just ask O.J. Howard and David Njoku, those heralded first-round picks from last year.

Again, there is some truth here. Tight end is one of the most difficult positions for a rookie tight end to make an impact. Some say it’s right up there with cornerback.

Here’s what’s clear about Roberts’ role in 2018: There will be a veteran tight end on the roster to help him develop. That’s it.

It’s hard to know exactly what the Lions are going to do with Roberts. He probably isn’t ready (or capable) of becoming the Lions’ primary receiving tight end in 2018, but it’s also pretty likely that he’s going to take a significant jump in 2018, whether that’s as a blocker or the red zone threat he was expected to be last year.

Regardless of what the plan is, there may not be another Lions player poised for a bigger jump than Roberts in 2018.


What will Michael Roberts’ role be in 2018?

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  • 11%
    No. 1 receiving TE
    (91 votes)
  • 25%
    No. 1 blocking TE
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  • 59%
    No. 2 TE
    (450 votes)
  • 3%
    No. 3 TE
    (24 votes)
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