On a team that includes young stars such as Matthew Stafford and Ndamukong Suh, Pettigrew is coming into his own.
The 26-year-old tight end has started to produce exactly as the Lions expected when they took him in the same round as Stafford in 2009.
"When you think about tight ends in the league -- guys making big catches over the middle in key moments, especially these first four games -- you've got to put Brandon in there. Period, hands down," receiver Nate Burleson said.
"If you look at how we get from 20(-yard line) to 20(-yard line) -- how we get to the red zone, Brandon's name is going to come up a lot in the stat sheet."
Fresh off an 0-16 season, the Lions began rebuilding when they took Stafford with the top overall pick in the 2009 draft. After securing their franchise quarterback, Detroit picked Pettigrew in a bit of a surprise at No. 20.
The Oklahoma State product started 11 games as a rookie, even catching the winning touchdown pass with no time remaining in a victory over Cleveland.
In a Thanksgiving game against Green Bay, however, Pettigrew injured his left knee and needed season-ending surgery.
"You're forced to be patient when you're injured, but it's tough, especially when you're a true competitor," Pettigrew said. "I just had to deal with it and get back."
In 2010, Pettigrew started all 16 games, catching 71 passes for 722 yards and four touchdowns. He has 22 catches this season, only two fewer than Calvin Johnson's team-leading total.
"We drafted him because he's a multidimensional tight end," coach Jim Schwartz said. "He's a guy that can block and he can get down the field and he can catch a ball in short area and stuff like that. ... He's a very important part of our offense."
At 6-feet-5, 265 pounds, Pettigrew can block, too. The offensive linemen consider Pettigrew one of them.
"I think we relate to him a little more, because he's such a big dude," center Dominic Raiola said. "He's growing up in a big way, emerging as one of the leaders of this offense."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press