The game log and stats sheet on Michael Roberts’ first two seasons with the Detroit Lions show that he is still a prospect with something to prove and room to grow.
That is not an ideal position to be in, especially with the offseason additions at tight end in the draft and free-agent signings that have cranked up the competition for playing time and roster spots.
For whatever reasons he has been off to a disappointing start – injuries and inconsistency chief among them – Roberts is well aware that he has yet to produce at the level the Lions were expecting when they drafted him in the fourth round out of Toledo in 2017.
“I think I’ve only been able to show glimpses and instances,” Roberts said after one of this week’s minicamp practices.
At 6-4 and 270 pounds and a hand size of 11.5 inches – biggest by far of any prospect at the 2017 Combine – Roberts has the frame to play tight end. And with 45 catches and 16 TDs in his senior year at Toledo, he had the production.
As the bottom line on his first two seasons shows – 13 catches, 3 TDs – he has not met reasonable expectations.
This is an important offseason for the Lions’ tight end position as a whole to make it a productive unit as Darrell Bevell installs his version of the west coast offense in his first season as offensive coordinator.
Head coach Matt Patricia cautioned in his Wednesday press conference not to make any conclusions from what has been seen in the OTA and minicamp practices that have been open to the media.
Based on those practices, formations using two tight ends will be common in Bevell’s offense, with run and pass options. There also will be some with three.
“The thing about it is, we run multiple tight ends, multiple receivers, multiple running backs.” Patricia said, using multiple examples to get his point across. “We run whatever we have to. Right now, some of that stuff may look one way. It may not look that way (later).
“We’re not into contact. We’re not into big scheme situations. We just trying to evaluate the players we have. That’s the biggest challenge we have. You have to evaluate the guys who are here.”
The Lions used the offseason to restock the tight ends. Jesse James and Logan Thomas were signed as free agents. In the draft, T.J. Hockenson was taken eighth overall in the first round, and Isaac Nauta was added in the seventh as a value pick.
Roberts and Jerome Cunningham are the only holdovers from 2018. Luke Willson and Levine Toilolo were not brought back.
Roberts was not surprised at the turnover. And he doesn’t sound threatened that the Lions drafted Hockenson with such a high pick.
“I kind of figured and knew Luke and Levine weren’t coming back,” he said. “Somebody had to come in. I’m excited that T.J.’s here. I’m glad he gets to learn from me. I get to learn from him as well.
“As a whole, we’re one of the most prolific tight end groups in the NFL this year.”
With the start of the regular season three months away, it’s a little early to make projections on where the Lions’ tight ends rate. They’ll all get an opportunity to make an impression, based on Bevell’s previous stints as offensive coordinator with the Vikings and Seahawks.
“I love Bevell’s offense,” Roberts said. “I honestly do. I feel like it’s set up for a tight end to thrive. It’s still very early, as I keep saying. We’ve brought in guys. We’ve brought in free agents and draft picks. It’s a tight end’s game now.
“I’m self-motivated. I try not to let too much on the outside affect how I do things. I’m as motivated as I was on day one.”