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2017 training camp preview: Tight end

On roster: Eric Ebron, Darren Fells, Michael Roberts, Cole Wick, Khari Lee, Brandon Barnes, Robert Tonyan

Key losses: Brandon Pettigrew, Tim Wright

Making cut: Ebron, Fells, Roberts

On bubble: Wick, Lee, Barnes, Tonyan

Best competition: Is the top three all but set, or can a surprise name emerge?

The Lions kept four tight ends on the initial 53-man roster out of training camp last year, so there's a chance one of the four players on the bubble remains on the roster out of camp.

The top three spots are pretty well set, however. Ebron should continue his upward trend in year four and find himself among the top 10 at the position in most statistical categories, like he did a year ago. A goal of his in 2017 is to find the end zone more than the one time he did last season.

Fells joins the Lions as one of the best blocking tight ends in the league, but will also get opportunities as a pass catcher.

Roberts was drafted in the fourth round and should, at the very least, play a role in the red zone. He recorded 16 touchdowns at Toledo last season and had the biggest hands in this year's draft.

Wick, Lee, Barnes and Tonyan all bring different skill sets to the position. Wick and Lee both have experience in the scheme. Barnes is a terrific athlete with a good frame (6-5, 253) and Tonyan is a converted receiver with a track record of production in college.

It'll be hard for Wick, Lee, Barnes or Tonyan to supplant Ebron, Fells and Roberts in the top three, however, but if the Lions keep four tight ends, the competition for that last roster spot will be interesting.

2016 stats
Eric Ebron 13 61 711 11.7 61 1
Darren Fells^ 14 14 154 11.0 37 1
Michael Roberts 13 45 533 11.8 41 16
Cole Wick 6 2 18 9.0 13 0
Khari Lee 8 0 0 0 0 0
Brandon Barnes 5 5 85 17.0 39 1
Robert Tonyan 11 56 699 12.5 65 10
^ with ARZ     * college stats*

Twentyman's take: Lions fans should feel good about the talent and depth currently at the tight end position. Ebron can be a lightning rod for fans, but there's no denying his physical gifts and the kind of playmaking ability he brings to this offense. He needs to limit the drops, and appeared to put in the extra time before and after OTA and minicamp practices to work on that.

View photos of the tight ends competing for roster spots entering training camp.

Fells gives this offense something it hasn't had since Brandon Pettigrew was in his prime, which is a terrific in-line blocker. Given Taylor Decker's injury, Fells' signing might be even more important than first thought.

Roberts was a touchdown machine at Toledo and has a massive pair of hands. Expectations for him should be tempered some, however. We don't see many rookie tight ends come into the league and tear it up. It's a tough position to get acclimated to.

Ebron, Fells and Roberts all bring a unique skill set to the position. The additions of Fells and Roberts should also allow offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter the option to run more two tight-end sets if he chooses.

By the numbers:

61 & 711: Ebron's catch and yardage totals last season were both the third highest in franchise history. Brandon Pettigrew (83-777 & 71-722) owns the top two marks.

7: Dropped passes credited to Ebron last season, which was tops among all tight ends.

17.3: Percent of Matthew Stafford's completions last season that went to tight ends. When he threw to a tight end, he completed the pass 72 percent of the time.

Quotable: "If you want to stay in this game, you have to be a consistent player," Ebron said this offseason. "I haven't been the best at consistency, but I haven't been the worst at it either. The more and more I grow in this game, the more and more I build it, the more and more I'm reliable.

"Really, the best ability in this game is reliability and accountability. I have to do both – 100 percent of the time."

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