Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFC North [Print without images]

Thursday, May 14, 2009
Rookie on the hot seat: Brandon Pettigrew

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Pettigrew
Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford has signed a record-setting contract. But if all goes well, Stafford won't step on the field in 2009. One prominent rookie who will, however, is tight end Brandon Pettigrew.

Lions coach Jim Schwartz noted last month that Pettigrew is an "NFL-ready blocker right now." That praise, combined with the relative rarity of drafting a tight end in the first round, puts Pettigrew at the top of the NFC North's list of rookies on the hot seat.

Teams don't often draft tight ends in the first round unless they are expected to be dynamic playmakers in the passing game. Pettigrew is said to have soft hands, but his receiving skills are not projected to match those of say, San Diego's Antonio Gates or Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez. Instead, the Lions are hoping Pettigrew's blocking skills can make a significant impact on their power running game.

Rookies, Vets on the Hot Seat
ROOKIES ON THE HOT SEAT
• AFC: N | S | E | W
• NFC: N | S | E | W

VETS ON THE HOT SEAT
• AFC: N | S | E | W
• NFC: N | S | E | W

That impact is going to be difficult for the average fan and media member to recognize and measure. A blocking tight end is a relatively anonymous and complementary role. To use a first-round pick on Pettigrew, the Lions must believe he can be a dominant blocker on the point of attack who can single-handedly add yards to running plays. (After all, at this point, the Lions will return the same pair of tackles -- Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherilus -- that contributed to last season's 30th-ranked running game.)

But unless Pettigrew makes some plays in the passing game as well, he's going to be an easy target for fans and media members to question.

Honorable mention: Percy Harvin. The Vikings receiver is as well known for off-field distractions as he is for his playmaking skills. And while it was by all accounts an unfortunate coincidence, Harvin already has missed the Vikings' rookie minicamp after collapsing in an airport with extreme dehydration.

Harvin will get no benefit of the doubt and little, if any, breathing room as he embarks on his NFL career. The Vikings have taken great care to publicize their willingness to avoid drafting players with character issues, and Harvin could embarrass them with one wrong move.