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Detroit Lions All-Time Legacy roster: Tight Ends

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Our Legacy Roster series continues with the tight ends. The leader here is an obvious one, but there are two other spots for grabs.

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The tight end position has been a frustrating one for Lions fans over the past decade or so, with two relatively failed first-round picks that came in with such promise. Historically the team hasn't fared a whole lot better, with only one true stand out at TE in the team's long history.

There was a lot more talent at the position than most remember, however, and even a few surprises. This time, you get to choose who you would like to start at tight end on your Legacy Roster, who you want catching passes from Matthew Stafford, and who you want blocking for Barry.

Previous Legacy Roster articles

Introduction
Quarterbacks
Running Backs

The Starter

A starting tight end should be capable both as a receiving threat and as a blocker, and if they aren’t capable at both then you would expect them to be elite in one or the other. The Lions do not have a storied history of tight ends, but they haven't had a complete lack of talent at the position. We’re once again opening it up to you, the fans, to pick what three tight ends you want on your Legacy Roster, so let’s jump right in!

Charlie Sanders (1968-1977)

  • 7 Pro Bowls
  • 3 All-Pro selections
  • Hall of Fame
  • Lions all-time leader in yards for a TE (4,817)

One of the most well-respected players to ever put on a Lions uniform, Charlie Sanders was considered a trailblazer at the tight end position. In his time, tight ends were mostly in line blockers who would catch the occasional swing pass, but Sanders was a threat against any defender he lined up against. Unlike more modern receiving tight ends, Sanders was a superior blocker and was feared for his physicality as much as he was his talent catching a football. So well respected was Charlie Sanders in his playing days that he received the most All Pro votes of any players in two of his All Pro years. His career showed no signs of slowing as he neared a decade of play, but a knee injury would ultimately end his long-tenured stint as a Detroit Lion.

Jim Gibbons (1958-1968)

  • 3 Pro Bowls
  • 2nd most receiving yards for a Lions TE
  • 7th most receptions for a Lion

Charlie Sanders was the direct successor to another successful starter in Detroit. Jim Gibbons played for the Lions for more than a decade, and would be a football catching machine in his day. His career fell off sharply after his career year in 1964 where he caught 45 passes for 605 yards and 8 touchdowns. Gibbons wasn’t the fearsome blocker Sanders was when he played, but it wasn’t a weakness.

David Hill (1976-1982)

  • 2 Pro Bowls
  • 3rd most receiving yards for a Lions TE
  • 4th most receiving touchdowns for a Lions TE

David Hill is often the forgotten man in Lions history at tight end, but he wasn’t the feared receiving threat that someone like Sanders was. He was, however, a good enough receiver to make a pair of Pro Bowls and rack up impressive stats in his time with the Lions as well as being considered a dangerous blocker. His blocking ability was so well respected that he would move on to block for the Rams in 1983. The Rams would draft a guy named Eric Dickerson that season, and Hill was considered a big factor in Dickerson’s immediate success.

Poll

Who will start at tight end for the Detroit Lions Legacy Roster?

This poll is closed

  • 97%
    Charlie Sanders
    (547 votes)
  • 0%
    Jim Gibbons
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    David Hill
    (5 votes)
  • 1%
    Someone Else (In Comments)
    (9 votes)
562 votes total Vote Now

The Receiving Tight End

Because the two traits are so interconnected at this position and because all tight ends do both on occasion, we’re not breaking up the player list for the next two polls. Instead, we’re going to give you the criteria for each position and you can vote on the final two spots below. The second tight end on our roster will be brought in solely for their receiving ability, with blocking being more of a bonus. Rather than going simply by first, second, and third best, we’re going to look at who you would pair with your starter to act as a receiving threat. Don’t fret if you want a big heavy, though, as our next section will deal with blockers.

The Blocking Tight End

A blocking tight end doesn’t need to be a serious receiving threat, but it helps. There isn’t much in terms of statistics for blockers, so this was a bit more taxing to put together than the other roster spots we’ve put together so far. All the same, you get to make the choice for who is blocking for Barry Sanders and Billy Sims. We’ve already covered fearsome blockers like David Hill and Charlie Sanders, and you can consider prime Brandon Pettigrew before the injuries and inconsistency took their toll, but here are some other options.

John Greene (1944-1950)

  • More than 21 YPC in two NFL seasons
  • 2nd most receiving touchdowns for a Lions TE
  • Led the Lions in receiving for four straight seasons
  • Retired as the Lions all time leading receiver

John Greene doesn’t stand out when you’re looking solely at statistics. He made no Pro Bowls and wasn’t a highly lauded player in history. Boy oh boy, Greene was a fun study. Coming out of Michigan, he was a 6-foot-0 and 190 pound backup quarterback who was moved to backup offensive tackle. He was drafted as a blocking tight end and caught no passes a as a rookie, but in his sophomore season his head coach realized he was fast and he went from nothing to catching 26 passes for 550 yards at 21.2 yards per catch. As noted above, his statistics at the time were pretty sick, and it’s surprising to me he didn’t have more accolades in his day.

David Sloan (1995-2001)

  • 1 Pro Bowl

David Sloane came to Detroit and became a near immediate fan favorite. It wasn’t until his 1999 Pro Bowl season that fans really latched on, however, when he caught 47 passes for 591 yards and four touchdowns. He would never reach those heights again, but would have a few more productive years for the Lions before he finished his career with the Saints. If there was one word to describe Sloan as a tight end, it would be “steady.”

Leon Hart (1950-1957)

  • 1 All Pro
  • 1 Pro Bowl

Hart put up respectable numbers in the 50s as a receiving threat, but the Heisman Trophy winner and pass rusher was also a well respected blocker. Playing in Detroit’s high volume passing offense during the championship years, it sometimes gets overlooked how well the run game functioned. One of my favorite quotes for any player during my research was about Hart, “Hart didn’t so much block defensive players as devour them.” In an era of 6-feet-tall and only 200 pound tight ends and lineman, Leon Hart was nearly 6-foot-5 and almost 250 pounds when he was drafted by the Lions, size that would be typical of an NFL tight end in 2018.

Brandon Pettigrew (2009-2015)

  • 2nd most receptions in Lions history for a TE

Brandon Pettigrew will always be remembered for drops in Detroit. Billed as the next Jason Witten, Pettigrew was a big bodied blocker who had a strong route tree and powerful, though inconsistent hands.

Early injuries would sap much of his speed and his hands went from inconsistent to consistently unreliable very quickly. Drops aside, Pettigrew would go on to break Charlie Sanders’ receiving record not once, but twice, and despite his flaws, he was always trusted by his quarterback. Injuries would continue later in his career and his blocking ability nose dived, leaving the Lions to go in a different direction. If you’re looking for someone to work in a high volume offense, Pettigrew fits the bill.

Poll

Who is the Legacy Roster receiving tight end?

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    Charlie Sanders (if he’s not starting)
    (76 votes)
  • 20%
    Jim Gibbons
    (92 votes)
  • 6%
    John Greene
    (29 votes)
  • 12%
    David Sloan
    (57 votes)
  • 8%
    David Hill
    (38 votes)
  • 26%
    Brandon Pettigrew
    (118 votes)
  • 4%
    Leon Hart
    (18 votes)
  • 4%
    Someone Else (in comments)
    (21 votes)
449 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Who is the Legacy Roster blocking tight end?

This poll is closed

  • 21%
    David Hill
    (84 votes)
  • 13%
    Charlie Sanders
    (52 votes)
  • 13%
    Leon Hart
    (53 votes)
  • 29%
    Brandon Pettigrew
    (115 votes)
  • 4%
    Jim Gibbons
    (17 votes)
  • 1%
    John Greene
    (7 votes)
  • 14%
    David Sloan
    (56 votes)
  • 0%
    Someone Else (In Comments)
    (2 votes)
386 votes total Vote Now

Do your thing!

Once again, it's time for you to take over, Lions fans. Vote in the three polls above for your Legacy Roster tight ends, and let us know why you picked who you did in the comments. The choice is still up to you, and you're already putting together a hell of a team. So let's do to to it, Lions fans!