Michael Roberts enters the 2018 offseason in a very unique position.
After the Detroit Lions released starting tight end and former first-round pick Eric Ebron before the start of the league year, Roberts, who is entering his second NFL season, has an opportunity to seize a significant role in Jim Bob Cooter’s offense.
The team signed veteran tight ends Luke Willson and Levine Toilolo in free agency to shore up their numbers and create competition at the position, but as a fourth-round pick last year by GM Bob Quinn, and a player familiar with Cooter’s scheme, Roberts is likely to get an opportunity to carve out a role this spring and summer.
“Mike’s a very unique talent in terms of his size,” Quinn said of his second-year tight end at last week’s league meetings. “He’s got versatility to contribute in the passing game as a receiver, in protection, as well as his role last year was really probably one of our better blockers on the line of scrimmage.”
Roberts (6-5, 265) averaged around 15 snaps per game as a rookie, and finished his first year with four catches for 46 yards. He wasn’t the red zone threat some thought he might be as a rookie after recording 16 touchdowns as a senior at Toledo, but tight end isn’t typically a position where rookies come in a set the league on fire. It’s one of the more difficult positions to learn for young players making the jump to the NFL because it’s essentially learning to be a hybrid between an offensive lineman and receiver. Not only do they have to have an understanding of the entire route tree, but the tight end also has to have a complete understanding of all the blocking schemes.
Roberts isn’t the same kind of athlete Ebron is at the position, but he has a chance to potentially be a more complete tight end because of his abilities as a blocker and then as a short, intermediate and red zone threat.
“Mike has a lot of work to do in the offseason,” Quinn said. “We talked when the season was over. He knows kind of the things that he needed to work on. So, we’re excited about his future, but I think it’s really up to him to kind of take the next step because the talent’s there. He’s just going to kind of work to kind of take that next step.”
Lions head coach Matt Patricia will get his chance to see Roberts live in action in the coming weeks when the coaches get to instruct players in the second phase of the offseason training program, and during the team’s voluntary minicamp at the end of the month.
What Patricia’s seen on tape up to this point, however, he likes.
“There’s a lot of things that you see on tape that are good in both the run game and the pass game,” Patricia said. “You know, it’s a young player that really still needs to develop and we’ll see as that goes as we work toward the spring into training camp.”
Amid what’s transpired at the position this offseason, and due to the fact that significant roles are up for grabs, there might not be another second-year player on the roster poised for a bigger jump in production than Roberts if he has a good offseason and a solid training camp.