Michael Roberts was an exciting prospect for the Detroit Lions when they drafted him in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL draft. The big-bodied tight end was not a very athletic prospect, but during his time as a Toledo Rocket he had proven to be a decent blocker and great red-zone threat. He could be the perfect complement to then starter Eric Ebron.
Two years later, he has been everything but that. In his rookie year he failed to make an impact, stuck behind Ebron and Darren Fells. In 2018, he had a chance to finally step up and show what he could do at this level, with both of his 2017 counterparts no longer in Detroit. Roberts failed to stick out in an abyssal tight end unit.
Through two NFL seasons Roberts has only caught 13 passes for 146 yards. Even for a fourth-round pick he has been disappointing.
Detroit seems to want to put all of their 2018 woes at tight end behind them. They did not retain either Luke Willson or Levine Toilolo—even though the latter proved to be a valuable blocking tight end. They nabbed the top free agent at the position in Jesse James and added former Buffalo Bill Logan Thomas for good measure. They made it especially clear that rebuilding the tight end room was a priority in the draft, where they selected T.J. Hockenson eighth overall, then added Isaac Nauta in the seventh to really drive home the point.
Roberts is the lone remaining piece from last season’s disaster of a tight end room. While he did show some growth between Year 1 and Year 2, he will have to show even more growth this summer if he hopes to remain on the roster in 2019.
Detroit will likely hold on to at least three tight ends for their Week 1 53-man roster. That leaves one open spot behind Hockenson and James. If Roberts can prove his value as a red-zone target and a receiving tight end, then he has a chance. Thomas will most likely be his main competition, and he has also failed to be much of a receiver or a blocker through three years of his NFL career.
There is a chance that the Lions will just want to cut bait and roll with an entirely new unit in 2019. And if they do, a once promising career with the Lions may come to a sudden end.