Over the next two weeks, we’ll be previewing the Detroit Lions entering training camp, which begins at the end of July. A reminder -- unless a player is an entrenched starter, so much of what will happen over the next month or so will be entirely fluid as players attempt to make an NFL roster.
Position: Tight end
Likely roster spots: 3.
What to expect in camp: This might be one of the easiest positions to predict both in terms of roster and what will happen in camp. Since Detroit moved Michael Williams from tight end to offensive tackle before spring workouts and then drafted Ebron, it has been clear Ebron, Pettigrew and Fauria would be the team’s tight ends this fall.
All three have different strengths and issues. Ebron can spread the field open with his speed and has the flexibility to line up in the slot, on the outside and next to the offensive line if necessary. His issue throughout camp was the same problem he had at North Carolina -- catching the ball.
Pettigrew can both block and run routes and the team invested in him by bringing him back during free agency on a four-year deal (only two seasons guaranteed). His strengths come in his blocking and that he can run routes if necessary. He had issues with drops throughout his career but with Ebron on the roster, he likely won’t see the same amount of targets.
Fauria’s height and vertical make him a good red zone threat and his hands are the best of the three tight ends expected to make the roster. He has more speed than Pettigrew and can move down the field when he needs to. His route-running needs to improve, as does his blocking. Drafting Ebron also likely takes away a bunch of potential targets for Fauria, but if he improved his blocking during the offseason he should still see more snaps than last season.
Thompson and Maxwell should not factor into the roster, although Thompson could end up as a practice squad player.
What Detroit needs to see: This all begins with Ebron. The Lions took a chance drafting him instead of a defensive lineman (Aaron Donald) or offensive lineman (Zack Martin), both of whom were probably safer choices. They also bypassed an obvious need at cornerback (Kyle Fuller, Darqueze Dennard) and safety (Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Calvin Pryor) to take Ebron.
He struggled at points during offseason workouts and while that is not surprising for a rookie at a tough-to-adjust position in the league, the Lions drafted him with the No. 10 pick, so he is expected to come in and contribute immediately.
Seeing him catch consistently and run routes well would help ingratiate him into the offense faster as an opening-day starter and someone quarterback Matthew Stafford can rely on.
The other potential surprise would be development from Fauria. If he shows that, it could provide cover for Ebron to develop at whatever pace he needs to if he isn’t quite as ready as the Lions would hope. This could benefit Fauria as well, as the former undrafted free agent wants to continue to prove he can be more than a red zone option in the NFL.
The Lions know what they have in Pettigrew and not much will change there.