Roberts' massive mitts offer Lions option at TE

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Mobile, Ala. — The Detroit Lions need a tight end, possibly two.

North squad tight end Mike Roberts of Toledo (80) practices for Saturday's Senior Bowl college football game

No, Eric Ebron isn’t going anywhere. He’ll be entering the final year of his rookie contract, but the team holds an option for a fifth season in 2018.

But the Lions need better depth, a versatile option who can be a long-term replacement for Brandon Pettigrew, who the team parted ways with late last season after seven years with the organization. They also need someone capable of shouldering a bigger role in a pinch with Ebron missing multiple games due to injury each of his first three seasons.

While it’s impossible to rule anything out with general manager Bob Quinn, given the limited track record, it’s unlikely the Lions will take a tight end in the first round, despite a potentially appealing option in Alabama’s O.J. Howard.

But it’s certainly a position Detroit could address in the middle rounds. One player generating significant buzz at the Senior Bowl was Toledo’s Michael Roberts. And that was before it was determined he had the biggest hands at the event, a jaw-dropping 11⅝ inches across.

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Asked how many teams he had talked to between the Senior Bowl and last week’s Shrine Game, Roberts couldn’t help but laugh.

“All 32 and maybe half the CFL, too,” he said.

Wearing the largest gloves available, Roberts still struggled to remove them when a reporter requested a hand-to-hand photo for comparison. Those oversized mitts help limit drops and secure the football after the catch.

“You still have to have a lot of concentration, but once it’s in my hands, it’s usually not going anywhere,” Roberts said.

The 6-foot-4, 261-pound Roberts caught 45 balls for the Rockets last season for 533 yards. His biggest impact came in the red zone where he racked up 16 touchdowns, double anyone else at his position.

“That’s where I come alive at, the middle,” Roberts said. “I did a lot of different things in the middle in college, caught a lot of different balls across the middle. You’ve got to be fearless.”

His blocking is a work in progress, but Toledo used him in a variety of ways — in the slot, inline and in the backfield. Now it’s just a matter of improving his technique, something he’s continuing to refine in Mobile.

Like many tight ends, Roberts has a basketball background. Given his MAC connection, it’s hardly a surprise he’s modeled his game after a player who followed a similar path, Detroit-native Antonio Gates.

“He was someone that had my body style and played like I did," Roberts said. "I would say Antonio Gates is someone I looked up to and still look up to.”

Twitter: @justin_rogers