Undrafted and Still Dancing in Detroit
Rookie tight end Joseph Fauria has made an immediate impact on the Lions, and not just with his end-zone moves. Where did they find this guy? Plus, mailbag questions on the NFL's No. 2 team and the Vick-Foles debate
Receiving touchdowns this season:
Joseph Fauria, tight end, Detroit: 5.
Andre Johnson, Hakeem Nicks, Julio Jones, Vincent Jackson (combined): 4.
There were 16 tight ends taken in the 2013 NFL Draft, but Fauria, the nephew of veteran NFL tight end Christian Fauria, was not one of them. At 6-7 and 255, the former Notre Dame and UCLA receiver, was either too stiff or too much of a loose cannon—the two faults found with Fauria by scouts—to merit being one of the 254 players picked last April.
Bet those scouts would like to rewrite their reports now. After six weeks of the season, Fauria, the Lions’ third tight end, has taken advantage of an injury to veteran Tony Scheffler. On Sunday, the rookie played 23 snaps against the Browns and made them count. Backing up Brandon Pettigrew, Fauria caught three touchdown passes from Matthew Stafford, giving him five for the season. Only Julius Thomas (seven), Vernon Davis (six) and Jimmy Graham (six) have more touchdown receptions by a tight end than Fauria. He has those five touchdowns on only seven catches, and with what the Lions coaches have seen in Fauria, there’s no question he’ll be getting the ball more in the coming weeks.
“What separates Joe,’’ said coach Jim Schwartz, “and has allowed him to make those plays is he’s really strong and has really strong hands.” And he’s ridiculously tall. On Sunday in Cleveland, he had five inches on two of the linebackers covering him in space, and with the accuracy of Stafford, Fauria was able to pluck balls down and not get them stripped—because, as Schwartz said, he has such a strong grip on the ball.
Watching him play, it seems amazing he wasn’t drafted. He is a little stiff, but isn’t every big tight end not named Vernon Davis or Jimmy Graham “a little stiff?” Sixteen tight ends picked and not Fauria … that’s a pretty good reason to question the people doing your West Coast scouting.
“Hey, Arian Foster wasn’t drafted either,’’ Fauria told me this week. “I’m going to embrace that part of my profile. I’m going to use it to drive me the rest of my career. I’m not a scout, obviously, and when all the picks kept going by that weekend and I didn’t get picked, I just kept my eyes forward, didn’t blink and said, ‘Those people don’t know me. I know what I’m capable of, and someone’s going to get lucky giving me a chance.’”
Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan saw early he could trust Fauria in the receiving game, and that he was a willing but not great blocker. And such a target. So Fauria kept getting chances, and Sunday in Cleveland, those chances turned into those three touchdown passes. He was single-covered on all three: by a 6-foot safety, Johnson Bademosi, 6-1 linebacker Craig Robertson and 5-10 safety T.J. Ward. On the last one, at the line of scrimmage, Ward came up close to Fauria, as if to bump him at the snap of the ball—and the height difference was stunning. Fauria was a head taller.
On the three touchdown catches, Fauria had seven, six and nine inches, respectively, on the men who covered him. When Stafford throws high and accurate, it’s virtually unstoppable.
Fauria is a bright kid, peppy and showy and an end-zone dancer when he scores, and he finds it almost overwhelmingly cool to be making an impact on the NFL when no one thought he’d make an NFL roster. After Sunday’s game, Calvin Johnson walked by him and said, “Good game.’’
Fauria said: “Hi Calvin.’’ And when he passed, Fauria added: “Wow. That was cool.”
“That’s one of the best I’m getting a chance to play with, and I don’t take it for granted,’’ Fauria said. “CJ getting doubled out there makes it pretty easy for me, because I think my size can help create mismatches. And the way Matthew Stafford throws the ball—I’m in awe catching it. Such a good ball.’’
He’ll be seeing quite a few of those from Stafford.
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