Despite signing both Luke Willson and Levine Toilolo, the Detroit Lions have indicated they are not even close to done correcting the lack of depth they have at the tight end position. The team has either had meetings with or conducted private workouts with at least six mid-to-late-round tight end prospects at pro days, and those are just the ones we’ve been able to see reported from a front office that has been extremely tight lipped this offseason. It’s likely the Lions are in the market for a late round prospect or priority free agent, given the type of prospects they’ve been targeting, and one such meeting was conducted by JIm Bob Cooter himself.
Though he has drawn enough interest to be an official visit by the Titans, Deon Yelder is unlikely to be drafted in 2018, and if he is, it will be in the last two rounds. Though his 2017 season stats are eye popping, with 52 catches for 688 yards and seven touchdowns, there’s some important context to consider. Yelder has only one season of production, and when I say that I don’t just mean one season of starter production, I mean production at all. He redshirted in 2013, didn’t play a snap in 2014, and was only a special teamer for the final four games of 2015. He played in every game in 2016, but it was exclusively on special teams, he didn’t record a single catch. Finally in 2017, he broke out in Western Kentucky’s pass happy offense.
Though he dealt with an injury that forced him to miss a game in 2017, I didn’t find much in terms of injury history for Yelder, though with such a low usage I would have been surprised to find one.
Yelder measured out well at his pro day, with an unofficial time of 4.72 in the 40 and jumps of 33.5” and 10’00” in the vertical and broad respectively. Considered one of the better athletes at Western Kentucky, this isn’t really surprising. Though his vertical was above average for a tight end, it was a bit underwhelming for him specifically, as it was considered his calling card on special team units.
Like most of the late-round players the Lions have been paying heavy attention to at pro days, Yelder is a mult—sport athlete, having a basketball background. He also shares the red zone prototype that the other late-round tight ends the team have been scouting have had. What sets him apart is that, unlike the others, he only has a single year of production, whereas almost all of the others have three or four years starting experience in college. Deon Yelder is a late Day 3 prospect who could hear his name called with the Lions final pick if they like his potential for development, but is more likely a priority free agent target who could find his way onto the practice squad with a possible role in 2019 after the Lions’ multiple one-year free agent deals expire.