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Don’t let the touchdowns — and the subsequent cringe worthy celebratory dances — fool you. Detroit Lions’ tight end Joseph Fauria was not free last season.
Not even close.
By free, of course I mean in a fantasy sense: free to run plenty of pass routes and be a secondary target for Matthew Stafford and get his share of jump balls in the end zone. Fauria, the 6-foot-7 undrafted rookie who caught seven touchdown passes in 2013 — more than Jordan Cameron and Greg Olsen — was anything but free in a Detroit offense devoid of legit receiving options outside Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush, and Joique Bell.
Fauria’s free-ness remains very much up in the air, as the Lions are inexplicably serious about re-signing tight end Brandon Pettigrew. Yes, that’s the Pettigrew who was the fantasy equivalent of Logan Paulsen in 2013. There’s hardly anyone worse at the position.
I think it’s important, before we get to the good offseason news about Fauria’s potential in 2014, that we take a close look at how little the giant rookie touchdown machine was used even after the Lions cut tight end Tony Scheffler in late October.
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Pettigrew took the vast majority of the route-running pie after Scheffler’s unceremonious departure, with Fauria used almost exclusively as a goal line specialist. That’s not necessarily a bad role for a guy who did nothing but catch short touchdowns during his college career.
With the season’s final couple weeks serving as the exception (Pettigrew was injured), it’s plain to see that Fauria wasn’t given an opportunity to thrive in Detroit’s pass-happy attack.
Enter new Lions’ offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, who almost immediately pointed to Fauria as a guy who should serve as an integral part of the team’s offense.
I’m not going to point out that Lombardi coached Jimmy Graham during his stint with the Saints as a clear and present sign that we’ve stumbled upon the next great fantasy tight end — no matter what Fauria says.
“I have a similar background to (Graham) with basketball and similar height and the way we play,” Fauria said in an interview with Detroit.com. “I think I can contribute very similarly to how he has with the Saints.”
Even Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew acknowledged that Fauria isn’t — and likely won’t be — Graham, saying the two tight ends were “built a little bit differently.”
Mayhew charged that Fauria could be a “very, very productive” member of the Stafford-led attack. That’s two very’s, in case you missed it.
I think we’ll hear this spring and summer that Lombardi and his staff are emphasizing Fauria’s potential in the slot, creating nightmare matchups for safeties and linebackers. Fauria only ran 62 pass routes from the slot in 2013, or about 35 percent of his total routes. He reeled in just five catches — two for scores — in those 62 slot opportunities.
Graham ran fully half of his 2013 routes out of the slot, hammering defenses to the tune of 42 grabs for 480 yards and eight touchdowns. Graham ran 65 percent of his routes from the slot in 2012, and 44 percent in 2011. If Fauria is used out of the slot on 50 percent of his 2014 snaps, it will serve as more than a small fantasy boon.
Fauria, for what it’s worth, went into the offseason with a chip on his shoulder bigger than his glove-like hands.
“Whether it’s the old adage that Joe Fauria can’t block — which I think people that actually watched the season know I can now — or I’m not fast enough or can’t run routes, I just want to keep getting better at all of that and work on my own style of play,” he said in an interview. “I want to be a jack of all trades but I also want to be master of what I can be master of.”
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