There was one noticeable player missing from Detroit’s season finale win over Green Bay last month.
Rookie tight end Michael Roberts was suspended for the game for conduct detrimental to the team after reportedly missing a team meeting the night before the game.
It was a rookie mistake that Roberts said after the season he learned from.
“We are professionals, and I did something unprofessional,” he said. “It’s not a big thing right now. It happened. I have to move forward. I have to be better. So, that’s just where it is right now.”
A fourth-round pick out of Toledo, Roberts did a nice job evolving as a tight end through the course of his rookie season. He was used mostly as a pass catcher in college, and scored 16 touchdowns as a senior, but with veteran Eric Ebron getting most of the targets at tight end in Detroit, Roberts had to develop his game to be more of an all-around threat.
Working with tight ends coach Al Golden, Roberts steadily improved those other aspects of playing the position. Some of his highlights later in the season weren’t from catching the football, but rather laying terrific blocks that resulted in scoring plays for teammates.
“Run blocking, pass protection, pass routes, and then all the details that come within those things. Tight end is a complex position and Mike’s learning a bunch,” offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said of Roberts toward the end of the season last year.
“We see him coming along, but he’s got to keep pushing himself, keep getting better, finish this thing strong. He’s doing a nice job. Like all young players, got to keep doing a nice job, keep getting better.”
Those comments were made before Roberts’ misstep the final week of the season that led to him missing the Packers game Week 17.
Roberts finished his rookie season with just four catches for 46 yards, but based off the gains he made as a blocker, he could play a much bigger role next season alongside Ebron, especially with Darren Fells being an unrestricted free agent. Ebron and Fells were the top two tight ends in 2017.
View photos of the Detroit Lions tight ends in 2017.
“I’m going to come back in the best shape that I’ve been in to date,” Roberts said of his goals this offseason. “I have a year under my belt. I’ve got experience. I know what’s going on. I have a feel. You guys can expect me to come back on a mission.”
Cooter certainly seems to expect Roberts to be better, and seems to have big expectations for him in year two.
“He’s versatile,” Cooter said. “He can block really well. He’s got some really intriguing tools when he runs routes, catches the ball, has some athleticism.
“Versatility is a really important thing I think for a tight end, and to have a guy that can sort of do all that stuff. I’m excited about ... his development this year and where he’ll end up.”
What kind of role Roberts ends up having next season will depend on the work he puts in this offseason and how he comes back in the spring ready to build on a rookie season that showed promise, but didn’t end the way anyone would have liked.
“I think I laid the foundation for myself this year,” Roberts said. “I don’t look to play or move like a rookie next year. Expect big things from me because I expect big things from myself.”