The Packers Acquire TE Michael Roberts On Waivers

The Packers were awarded TE Michael Roberts as a waiver claim on Monday.  Since the Packers have the 12th-highest priority for waiver claims, eleven teams must have passed on Roberts.

The Detroit Lions traded Roberts to the New England Patriots on June 13 for a conditional 2020 seventh round draft pick, but the trade was rescinded "per the terms of the deal."  It is widely assumed that Roberts failed his physical.  A shoulder injury led to him being placed on IR after having played in just 8 games in 2018.

Detroit selected Roberts in the 2017 draft in the fourth round, using pick number 127 overall.  Roberts had 45 receptions for 453 yards (11.8 yards/reception) and a whopping 16 touchdowns in his senior year at Toledo.

Roberts appeared in 15 games and played 221 snaps for Detroit in 2017, plus 148 more snaps on special teams.  As a rookie, he was behind Eric Ebron and Darren Fells.  Ebron did not play any special teams snaps, leaving those chores to Fells and Roberts.

Detroit moved on from Ebron and Fells in 2018, going with Levine Toilolo and Luke Wilson at TE.  Toilolo signed with San Francisco (but I have not been able to find the terms of his deal even though he signed on May 15).  Wilson signed a one year deal with Oakland for $895,000, so it does not sound like Wilson was a hot commodity. 

However, Roberts was not able to fully grasp that opportunity.  He played 159 snaps in 8 games.  He sustained a shoulder injury on November 11 and was placed on injured reserve in December.  Roberts was phased out of special teams as well, playing just 18 snaps there in 2018.

In 2018, Roberts caught 9 passes on 20 targets (45%) for 100 yards (11.1 yards per reception) and three touchdowns.  The 45% catch rate and 5.0 yards per target average are poor efficiency numbers.  However, of his nine receptions, five were for first downs and three more were for touchdowns.

Detroit signed TE Jesse James in free agency and drafted Hockensen in the first and TE Isaac Nauta in the 7th.  Some draftniks think Nauta in the seventh was good value, so that might not be a reflection directly on Roberts.  Detroit also likes QB to TE conversion project Logan Thomas, who the team signed as a free agent in March.

Roberts measured exactly 6'4" tall and weighed 270 pounds at the combine, where he ran a 4.86 forty.  His vertical leap was 30.1 and his broad jump was 110 inches.  He does have two outstanding traits: he ran a combine best (for tight ends) 7.03 three-cone, and he has enormous hands, measured at 11.5 inches.  That is an eighth of an inch off the combine record for hand size, regardless of position. 

Roberts has had some drops.  Playerprofiler.com lists him with 4 drops in 2018 (20%) and one drop in 2017 (14.3%).  He is considered to be a good run blocker, and he has some quickness, though his route-running is reputedly not great.

I spent more time looking at Roberts than I ordinarily would because of the considerable speculation that the Packers might move on from Graham and Marcedes Lewis in 2020.  While I like Sternberger and have hopes for Tonyan, they are both unproven.

I like the idea of acquiring players with real NFL experience through waivers.  The Packers inherit the last two years of his rookie contract minus the signing bonus prorations, so he has no guaranteed money.  Roberts is scheduled to play for $645,00 and $735,000 in 2019 and 2020, respectively. 

Roberts has a tough road ahead of him to make the team.  Graham, Sternberger, Lewis, and Tonyan are all better bets to make the team, with the first two on the list being locks.  It is hard to see the Packers releasing Lewis: the team would have to eat $550,000 it has already paid to Lewis, though strictly speaking the team would save $1.005 million if Roberts were to replace Lewis.  Otherwise, the Packers would have to release Tonyan or keep five TEs. 

Roberts is eligible for the practice squad, and he would not need one of the veteran's exemptions despite having two accrued seasons since he was only active for 8 games in 2018.  

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Comments (19)

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Coldworld's picture

June 18, 2019 at 06:44 am

Hazarding a guess, this fellow is a candidate for backing up Lewis or as a post Lewis blocker. He is physically similar to Pharoah McKeever whom they picked up a week or so ago. Another large 260 pound plus TE.

I don’t know how many of the 11 passes he didn’t catch were catchable. That jars with his reputation coming into the NFL as a very sure handed catcher.

He has among the biggest hands recorded for a skill position player. According to PFF’s review of his college career, his hands are an asset: only 3 dropped passes out of 51 catchable targets in 2016, running a diverse set of routes. Per PFF, he earned the highest overall grade and second-highest receiving grade among draft-eligible tight ends in the 2016 season. I haven’t watched much film, but he certainly seemed effective in the red zone last year.

He was apparently used primarily as a run blocker in Detroit although he was known in college for effective pass blocking as well. According to Pro Football Focus, Roberts finished 2018 with a well above league average 73.2 run blocking grade, well above the league average, and a 77.2 receiving grade.

Based on those in isolation, one wonders why Detroit were so ready to move on with him but can also see why NE were interested in picking him up.

From reading, it may just have been injuries. He was injured in camp last year then on IR by week 8 and out before that. Having been buried on the depth chart in ‘17 and then injured, Detroit invested in the position this year, and obviously moved on.

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

June 18, 2019 at 06:27 am

Maybe they don't see Lewis as a sure bet to be on the final Roster. He's 35, prioritized finishing his degree over learning the new scheme in OTAs and last had 500 yards recieving 6 seasons ago.

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Coldworld's picture

June 18, 2019 at 06:33 am

I’ve wondered that. This could all be planning for 2020 and depth though. We had no blocking TE candidate other than Lewis till a week or two ago and thus no one in the pipeline to develop. Now have two with PS eligibility, although the Pats obviously have this guy on their radar.

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

June 18, 2019 at 06:52 am

Yeah, building the PS is important.too.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

June 18, 2019 at 08:51 am

Thanks, Coldworld. I had the PFF grades and forgot to put them in. What caught my attention is the same thing that you mentioned: he didn't catch that many passes, but good things happened when he did. 8 of his 9 receptions were for first downs or TDs in 2018 and combined with those 16 TDs as a senior suggests it is a pattern.

Playerprofiler listed 4 drops in 2018 and one in 2017, so 5 out of 27 targets or 18.5%. Not sure what that's about as his scouting report was fine about his hands. Stafford didn't have a good year, but I don't watch Detroit except when they play GB.

I didn't know that he got injured early in the season and tried to play through it. I just checked and determined that 16 of his 18 ST snaps were in week one and two. It sounds like that's the reason his ST snaps were reduced: Detroit didn't use him on STs after the first two games due to injury. So, sounds like he still has value on STs, another plus.

I know it is hype season and I don't mean to hype Roberts. I just like the pick-up whether he makes the team or not, or as possible talent in the pipeline for 2020. [I haven't read Cory's article yet but I plan to do so - it was just coincidental timing having two articles on TEs today.]

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flackcatcher's picture

June 18, 2019 at 10:36 am

Detroit is notorious for junking young players. As I said down thread, Wrong time, wrong place for a young player who needed time to learn the pro game. Injury may need time, or more likely surgery and rehab which the Lions were not interested in, as Coldword mentioned. When it comes to taking care of players, the difference between organizations like Green Bay and Detroit is striking.

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stockholder's picture

June 18, 2019 at 06:20 am

"because of the considerable speculation that the Packers might move on from Graham and Marcedes Lewis in 2020". // Yes ,it might be sooner then we think.// I still don't believe they keep 4 TEs.

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marpag1's picture

June 18, 2019 at 06:50 am

It's not very encouraging that New England didn't want him. It makes you wonder about his health and injury condition. Now that Gronk has retired, New England's best TEs are Peter Pan and the Tooth Fairy... and Peter Pan is 38, failed a drug test and will sit out the first four games.

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Coldworld's picture

June 18, 2019 at 07:25 am

They did want him. The physical is supposedly (not confirmed) the reason why that trade unraveled. We did not give up anything, had an open spot and thus risk nothing in claiming him. NE may placed a waiver claim too for all we know.

I can find no information out there on his current medical situation other than that he injured his shoulder catching a pass. Most of his play and receptions were in the first month of the season. He initially came back for another game or so before early November before presumably aggravating it necessitating surgery. He went on IR on December 11th.

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marpag1's picture

June 18, 2019 at 07:50 am

Yeah... so what I'm saying is that it makes you pretty nervous about the guy's health when New England, who is in desperate need of a TE, takes a look at him and says no thanks.

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Coldworld's picture

June 18, 2019 at 08:25 am

I wonder about that, but they were trading a pick (if he proved himself worth acquiring).

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

June 18, 2019 at 08:53 am

One of the articles I found said Detroit didn't wait for the minor injury to heal, but I didn't see any source for it being minor. Can't remember which article. I visited Pride of Detroit, Lionswire, and a couple of Boston area sites.

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Community Guy's picture

June 18, 2019 at 07:41 am

thanks.. great write-up.

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BradHTX's picture

June 18, 2019 at 09:48 am

Talking about his blocking abilities as a positive is very contrary to the analysis posted by Zach Kruse on PackersWire. He posted comments from the writer for the Detroit page:

***

Jeff Risdon of Lions Wire provided some insight.

In a recent post, Risdon wrote that Matthew Stafford generally lacked trust in Roberts, who – despite big hands and a big frame – disappointed as both as a receiver and blocker.

While Risdon admits Roberts has good hands and can be functional as a receiver in the red zone, his lack of athleticism and polish prevented the former Toledo star from contributing more in Detroit.

“He’s got a complete lack of twitch and no functional quickness. He’s so slow getting off the line and his speed is build-up,” Risdon told Packers Wire. “Underwhelming as a blocker; Luke Willson was better at it. He is passive and doesn’t use his feet well as a blocker. Doesn’t drop his hands and as a result he winds up being too high to use any strength.”

***

Sounds to me like taking a flyer on a player who is most likely a camp body. And there’s nothing wrong with that; at best, his ceiling sounds like Richard Rodgers 2.0. I’d just temper expectations that this is a name we will even remember when we read that he’s been cut after camp.

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Coldworld's picture

June 18, 2019 at 11:24 am

And yet a very good 3 cone drill time and very good college receiving rating and decent to good NFL in season ratings per PFF. I don’t know that anyone is looking to him to be a Graham type. He is a blocking TE who can catch well (at least per PFF) and gets open in the red zone. Thus I am not seeing the comparison to RR.

It is possible that the above quote is correct. I have not watched him, but it doesn’t fit with what I saw reading game assessments and other contemporary comments from last year and leading into the draft. If NE were interested in taking a look, that suggests there is something there.

As always, we will see, but perhaps there is a little after the fact justification from the quoted writer?

Post script:
Having read the piece from which you quote, if find it somewhat skeptical of the quote anyway. That said, the writer seems to have made a major oversight. He poses an open the question why the production of early last season evaporated—the record clearly answers: injury that led to IR.

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marpag1's picture

June 18, 2019 at 11:40 am

And even if the quote is true, it doesn't explain why the Pats were at first interested, and then immediately turned around and cancelled the trade. The Patriots obviously thought they saw some talent on tape that they could work with. They didn't trade for him because they thought he lacked quickness and twitch and also had bad feet and low motor. So what did the Pats see that changed their minds during that day or two when when Roberts wasn't even on the practice field?

There almost has to be a medical red flag here.

P.S. - If he turns out to be "Richard Rodgers 2.0," I'd be thrilled. That would be a steal.

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flackcatcher's picture

June 18, 2019 at 10:16 am

I talked to friend on a west coast front office team. I was mostly interested in the process of evaluation. What he said was that there was nothing wrong with Roberts, but the Lions were in the mist of another rebuild, and he got caught in the wash. Wrong team, wrong time for a young player. We all forget that more often than not, the system can be as much as positive and negative regarding player development. And according to my friend, Stafford is extremely tough on young players with a very short fuse. Well, hard to blame with the Lions messy front office.

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Since'61's picture

June 18, 2019 at 10:16 am

TGR, excellent article. I posted yesterday that I wondered why the Packers claimed a guy who failed a physical? Your article has answered that question. Hopefully his injury is not serious.

It sounds like Roberts has some great physical attributes. Again I like Gute’s approach of using every avenue available for trying to improve our roster.

If he can make the team he can be an effective blocker in the run game and a solid 3rd down and/or red zone target. If he is healthy he is much younger and may have much more upside than Lewis at this point.

Another way to look at this is that Roberts was originally a 4th round pick. So this is like getting one of our 4th round picks back that we traded for Savage. “It’s a mystery but it all works out in the end.” Thanks, Since ‘61

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

June 20, 2019 at 12:32 am

"Nevermind." SNL

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