Following free agency and last month’s NFL Draft, the position with probably the most uncertainty attached to it for the Detroit Lions is tight end.
The team released veteran Eric Ebron (53 receptions in 2017) before the start of the league year.
Detroit signed veterans Luke Willson and Levine Toilolo to pair with last year’s fourth-round pick, Michael Roberts, but altogether those three tallied 31 catches between them last season.
Willson’s been the backup to Jimmy Graham in Seattle the last three seasons, and Zach Miller for a couple years before that. Toilolo played second fiddle to tight end Austin Hooper in Atlanta last season. Roberts had just four catches playing behind both Ebron and Darren Fells last season.
How big of a jump will Roberts make in his second season? Can Willson or Toilolo be a lead pass catcher at the position?
These are all questions that will start to be answered in the coming weeks and months.
When it comes to Willson, the four-year veteran thinks there's a lot of untapped production in his game.
“Yeah, I think everyone feels like that,” he said Tuesday. “But right now, again, I think the main focus this year for me and the Lions is winning games. Right now, in order for us to win games, I have to get better individually and that’s really what we’ve been locked in on as a team. Just each guy getting better so we can put this thing together because it’s coming quick. It’ll be here quick.”
Willson played in 15 games last season, and caught 15 passes for 153 yards and four scores playing 377 snaps to Graham’s 729 snaps. His best season was in 2014, the year before Graham arrived via trade, and Miller missed multiple games with an ankle injury.
Willson caught 22 passes for 362 yards and three scores in 15 games (10 starts) that season.
“I had to quickly kind of learn to be a more hand down type of guy,” Willson said of that 2014 season after Miller went down with injury.
“I think that’s kind of benefitted me in my career, because I feel comfortable doing whatever they ask me to do.”
That’s really the mantra Willson has heading into this season with the Lions.
“Yeah, I’m confident in my abilities,” he said. “But again, right now, I don’t want to pigeon-hole myself into doing just one role. I just wanna be able go out there, prove myself, these coaches gotta get to learn, know me, you know and let them decide what my role will be.
“Whether that’s pass catching, whether that’s special teams, whether it’s in the run game, whatever they want me to do. I’m here to help win ball games, that’s it.”
How Willson's role develops and what the rotation looks like at tight end will be interesting developments to watch.