“December 17, 2016.”
Ask Michael Roberts when his last football touchdown was prior to his first NFL score on Sunday against the 49ers and he’ll tell you the exact date. The Toledo Rockets, led by star running back Kareem Hunt, dropped their season finale to Appalachian State 31-28. But red zone phenom Michael Roberts kept them in the game early, grabbing a curl route and shaking two defenders on his way to the end zone.
638 days later, Roberts finally found the end zone again—he’s been counting the days... well, sort of.
“To be honest, I knew from a year and then I just added from there,” Roberts admitted to the media on Wednesday.
It has been a rough go in the time between touchdowns. Roberts was selected by the Lions in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL draft, a move that was met with some healthy skepticism. Though the Lions went into the draft with a need at tight end, the defensive line had remained unaddressed through three rounds, and a few popular players, including local product Ryan Glasgow, were still on the board. Others preferred Jake Butt or George Kittle as a tight end.
So a lot was expected of Roberts in his rookie year. As a player coming off a 16-touchdown senior year, many were hoping he’d be an immediate red zone threat, especially with the struggles surrounding Eric Ebron.
But his rookie season didn’t go as planned. Roberts played in about 15 snaps per game and was mostly used as a blocker or decoy, two roles he wasn’t all that familiar with. The man with gargantuan hands would only end up cradling a four catches in 2017 for a mere 46 yards. Even worse, his season ended with a team-given suspension for missing a team meeting.
Things looked even more dreary going into 2018. The Lions’ tight end room was purged, leaving Roberts as the only holdover from the year prior. It was his opportunity to break out, but the preseason left fans wanting more. Roberts only had two catches for 29 yards in the exhibition season, and the rest of the tight ends didn’t look much better.
“I felt kind of quiet in the preseason,” Roberts said. “I felt like I hadn’t done much.”
But Roberts is hoping Sunday’s touchdown—his first catch of the season—is “the beginning of something” now that he’s gotten the proverbial monkey off his back and realized a dream come true in San Francisco.
“(It’s) kind of a weight lifted, but really just a moment I’ve been dreaming about,” Roberts said. “I dream about that moment so many times, and just the way it happened it was ideal for me.”
Roberts has a long way to go from here. He now only has five career catches and eight targets in 16 games played. He’s clearly still working on developing a chemistry with Matthew Stafford, and nothing is guaranteed. But Roberts is hopeful Sunday’s touchdown is just the tip of the iceberg.
“The first of tons, that’s what I hope.”