In a game full of negatives for the Detroit Lions, there was one story that overrode a disappointment in Carolina.
There are very few success stories from division II football in the NFL. This Sunday Detroit Lions tight end Shane Zylstra proved to be the exception.
Originally, Zylstra signed as an undrafted free agent to the Minnesota Vikings in 2021.
After getting waived in the preseason by Minnesota he then signed with Detroit. He was promoted and demoted from the active roster four times. Zylstra was then was placed on injured reserve to end 2021.
Coming into the 2022 he was one of eight tight ends trying to make the team, let alone the practice squad. Waived in October and then returned to the practice squad.
Returning to present day Zylstra has fought and clawed his way onto this Detroit team. On a dismal Christmas Eve, Detroit was thankful for the undrafted tight end.
He caught five passes for 26 yards and all three of Detroit’s touchdowns against the Carolina Panthers.
The last time a Detroit Lion had scored three racing touchdowns was in 2015 by none other than Calvin Johnson. Pretty good company for Zylstra to be in only his sixth played game this season.
He caught his first career touchdown in week nine against the Green Bay Packers and hadn’t caught another until this week.
Coming into the season, he wasn’t looked at as someone who could realistically produce on the team let alone make the roster. At the time Detroit had T.J. Hockenson, Brock Wright and an injured rookie in James Mitchell.
On a team coached by Dan Campbell and an offense run by Ben Johnson, he had a shot.
Campbell spent 11 years in the NFL as a player at the tight end position. Before he was the head coach for Detroit he was the tight ends coach for the New Orleans Saints and the Miami Dolphins.
Johnson started his coaching career at Boston College as a tight ends coach, then moved on to the Dolphins tight ends coach and finally as Detroit’s at the same position.
Fair to say that the heads of the coaching staff on offense have a soft spot for the tight end position.
Nonetheless no Lion on this 2022 roster made the team because of favoritism. Zylstra fought long and hard to make his way onto the Detroit Lions and the NFL.
Overall week 16 for Detroit was dismal. Fighting for a playoff spot, after a 1-6 start to the season is a miracle. A career day for Zylstra, overlooked by the circumstances of the Lions.
With a win today Detroit could’ve slotted up into a wild card position in the NFC. Thankfully for them, the Seattle Seahawks and New York Giants both lost. The Washington Commander have yet to finish their game, but the Lions could get lucky.
With two games left they still have a shot to make it to the NFL post-season. After a nail-biting game in New York, a win in Carolina was going to be tough. It proved to be, but this offense obviously has an abundance of weapons.
When their run game fell flat they turned to the passing game. The only success in the end zone on Saturday was Zylstra. The third-stringer did his job exceptionally well this Saturday. If he can produce like that, there should be no excuse for the starters on offense.
Knowing this Lions team, Zylstra won’t be happy with a loss. For his family and all those who know his story today was a win.
Photo Credit: Brian Westerholt – Associated Press
Photo Edit: Noah Wulbrecht – Woodward Sports