Brandon Pettigrew: What the Lions Should Do with the Tight End

Jeff Risdon@@JeffRisdonContributor IFebruary 13, 2014

In this Dec. 16, 2013, photo, Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) checks on tight end Brandon Pettigrew (87) after Pettigrew was injured during an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens in Detroit. The Lions have placed Pettigrew on injured reserve, ending his season. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)
Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

One of the many decisions facing the Detroit Lions this offseason involves tight end Brandon Pettigrew. The erstwhile starter is an unrestricted free agent and his return to the Motor City is questionable.

The answer to the question of whether to bring Pettigrew back should be a definite "no."

While Pettigrew has not been bad, he's only sporadically lived up to expectations as the 20th overall pick in the 2009 draft.

The prime booty for the Roy Williams trade with Dallas, as documented by, Pettigrew has been the primary starter since he arrived in Detroit. 

After an uneven rookie season marred by injury issues, the big tight end began to blossom in 2010. Over the course of the 2010 and 2011 seasons, he caught 154 passes for 1,499 yards and nine touchdowns.

His efficiency was especially strong; Pettigrew's catch rate topped 68 percent.

Brandon Pettigrew Early Statistics
Pro Football Focus (subscription required)

It's at that point the bloom came off the rose. Pettigrew showed up for the 2012 season heavier than before, and the extra weight robbed him of what little quickness he had. An ankle injury that sidelined him for two full games, and parts of several others, further limited Pettigrew's effectiveness.

Somehow the ankle injury impacted Pettigrew's hands. While he had some prior drop issues, they spiked in 2012. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) credited him with nine in 2012, up from six in 2011, despite seeing 27 fewer targets.

Proving that the hands weren't just problematic with the ball in the air, Pettigrew fumbled four times as well.

He still had a chance to ingratiate himself to the Lions with a strong 2013 season. Pettigrew certainly had powerful incentive, playing for a new contract.

Unfortunately, his uneven play provided more reasons for Detroit to let him walk instead of coveting his services with a lucrative new deal.

Pettigrew had just one game in 2013 where he topped 70 receiving yards. His two touchdowns and 10.1 yards per reception both represent below-average totals, per PFF

His numbers over the last two seasons just don't justify the cap-strapped Lions bringing him back.

Brandon Pettigrew 2012-'13
Pro Football Focus

Pettigrew's productivity has taken a decided downward arc at a time when it should be shooting up. 

With Joseph Fauria proving he's a much more reliable red-zone target and better downfield threat, Pettigrew has lost his role. His pedestrian yards-per-catch figure indicates he's a possession receiver, nothing more. 

His blocking is his best selling point, but that has proven inconsistent over his career. NFL teams generally are not in the business of paying top dollar for tight ends who are more noted for blocking than receiving.

Besides, the Lions already have a replacement blocker on the roster in 2013 seventh-round pick Michael Williams. He spent his rookie season on injured reserve with a hand injury but figures to take over that offensive role going forward.

Between Fauria's strong finish as an all-around tight end after Pettigrew got hurt—ironically on his most athletic play in years—the presence of Williams and the potential to draft from a fairly deep class, there is no compelling reason to sign the free agent.