The NFL now releases official snap count statistics on the morning after most games, giving us an important -- if not entirely predictive -- tool for taking stock of a team's assessment of its roster. Last week, for instance, we received clear evidence of the Detroit Lions' intention to get rookie guard Larry Warford a bunch of work: He played 53 snaps in the preseason opener, roughly three-fourths of the game.
One figure jumps off the page from the Lions' second preseason game, a 24-6 loss to the Cleveland Browns. Veteran tight end Tony Scheffler saw only three snaps, fewer than all but one of the Lions position players who got onto the field. Instead, the Lions used rookie Joseph Fauria on 26 plays, while starter Brandon Pettigrew got 24 snaps and rookie Michael Williams got 17.
The trouble, of course, is knowing what the discrepancy means. Did Scheffler suffer an injury? Under NFL rules, the Lions wouldn't be required to disclose it. But assuming he is healthy, the range of explanations could vary widely.
The quick answer is to build on what we discussed Thursday: Scheffler might not be a lock to make the roster given the decision to draft Williams, the unique skills of Fauria and the fact that both he and Pettigrew are in the final year of their contracts. The Lions' playing time could have been designed to find out the extent of their functionality with the group of Pettigrew, Williams and Fauria.
Of course, the Lions are quite familiar with Scheffler and what he can do. Often, the preseason can be a time for evaluating young players while preserving veterans. There is nothing the Lions can really find out at this point about Scheffler that they don't already know. It's quite possible that the Lions just sat Scheffler so they could see more of the rookies and also receiver Ryan Broyles, who made his preseason debut and plays in the slot much like Scheffler does on passing downs. (Broyles got 19 snaps.)
With that said, a healthy Scheffler would be more attractive trade bait during the final cutdown weekend than one who is hobbled by an injury. That's something to keep in mind as well.
In the end, Scheffler's playing time was enough of an outlier to seek further explanation. There are many possibilities, and some of them point to a possible departure. I wouldn't be too quick to assume that, though.