Should Brandon Pettigrew be at least in the conversation when the talk turns to elite tight ends in the NFL?
He is the third-leading receiver among tight ends in the NFL and he has had the most productive season of any tight end in Lions history, surpassing the marks set by Hall of Famer Charlie Sanders.
Yet, he wasn't even among the top five in the NFC Pro Bowl selection process. Dallas's Jason Witten and Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez will represent the conference in Honolulu. San Francisco's Vernon Davis, Washington's Chris Cooley and New Orleans' Jeremy Shockey were all on the list before Pettigrew.
Pettigrew would be the first to tell you, that's as it should be -- for now.
"Those guys make big-time plays and big-time catches and there were opportunities that I had this year when I didn't do that," he said. "I have to do that to set myself apart. I am just at the beginning, and there are a lot more goals to be reached. There's a lot more I can do."
Locally, Pettigrew has gotten more publicity this season for his eight drops, which according to STATS, LLC are fifth most in the league, than for his record 68 catches for 703 yards.
There is still considerable debate among fans as to whether the Lions would have been better served using the 20th overall pick in 2009 on linebacker Rey Maualuga (Bengals) or offensive tackle Michael Oher (Ravens) instead of Pettigrew.
It is doubtful, however, that general manager Martin Mayhew or coach Jim Schwartz has any regrets.
"We don't have to defend him here," Schwartz said. "We are only scratching surface with Brandon Pettigrew and what he can do. He's on track to have an outstanding career."
In many ways, Pettigrew's production has far surpassed what the Lions were counting on. This is a guy who blew out his knee on Thanksgiving Day 2009 and had major knee surgery in January. The Lions did not expect to get a full season out of him, let alone the most productive season for a tight end in team history.
"People say players aren't the same until the second year after an ACL surgery," Schwartz said. "They usually have to miss training camp and things like that, but he's been very productive for us."
He caught seven passes for 108 yards against Philadelphia in Week 2. How about that for a signal that the knee injury was behind him?
"They (coaches and medical staff) didn't want to rush me," Pettigrew said. "They wanted me to take my time. But I was pushing myself. I had Kevin (Smith, who also came back from ACL surgery) there with me, and we kind of pushed each other. They weren't sure I'd be at training camp but I felt I was ready. I stepped in, took it slow for a while and then I was back."
Those who downplay Pettigrew's accomplishments will point out that 36 of his 68 receptions have been for 7 yards or fewer. But if you want to talk about his impact on games, here's the statistic: 33 of his 68 catches have gotten the Lions a first down.
"I am hopeful of being a big-time player, a great player," he said. "Those other guys (Gonzalez and Witten) already have their names out there. I am coming off knee surgery. I think I did well, but of course I am going to be critical of myself. I could've done a lot better as far as getting myself out there, making more plays and getting on the kind of roll those other guys have been on.
"It's going to happen if I keep making plays."
SERIES HISTORY: 99th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 66-30-2. Detroit is 18-30-1 at home. The Lions have lost six straight dating to Sept. 16, 2007. Again, most of the recent memories for the Lions in this series have been nightmarish. The closest the 0-16 Lions came to winning a game in 2008 came against the Vikings, but the effort was thwarted when QB Dan Orlovsky inexplicably ran out of the back of the end zone, giving Minnesota a safety. The Lions lost by two. In 2004, the Lions missed a chance to send the game into overtime when Don Muhlbach's snap on a point-after was errant.