Pro Football Focus recently ranked all 32 NFL teams' respective tight end units.
For some time, the Lions have been on the hunt for a top-tier tight end, despite taking three in the first round of the NFL Draft since 2009.
Is the 2020 season the one that the Lions finally see elite production from the position?
PFF sure seems to think that second-year pro T.J. Hockenson, the 2019 No. 8 overall selection, has the tools to become one of the league’s best.
Whether he can be in 2020 is the big question.
“T.J. Hockenson got off to an outstanding start to his NFL career, catching six passes for 131 yards and a score in his debut in Week 1. However, he slowed down and caught just 26 passes over the rest of the season. Like many tight ends, Hockenson is primed to take a big step forward in Year 2, as he’s an effective route-runner and is as sure-handed as it gets, dropping just three passes over the last three seasons. Hockenson is also an effective run-blocker, so his three-down ability combines with Detroit’s receivers to give them one of the best all-around playmaking units in the league.”
Meanwhile, Detroit general manager Bob Quinn handed out a sizeable deal last offseason to veteran tight end Jesse James.
It’s fair to say that James severely underperformed when compared to his contract. But, at least he does have some decent film from his time in Pittsburgh.
James had next-to-no production in the receiving department, and graded out below average for blocking a season ago.
It remains to be seen as to which way the Lions will want to go with their third tight end, and maybe they'll even keep four on the roster.
Currently, Isaac Nauta, one of last year’s seventh-round selections, is more of an H-back whose role could be augmented if Detroit offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell decides to move away from a true fullback.
Also, in the mix is an undrafted rookie free agent from Washington in Hunter Bryant.
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Many draft analysts had him in their top five at the position.
Bryant was more of a big slot receiver in college and known for being a better athlete than an all-around tight end.
The Lions didn’t utilize that type of player in the offense in Bevell’s first season calling the plays.
That’s not to say they couldn’t carve out a specialized role for Bryant, if he demonstrates enough promise throughout training camp.
According to PFF,
“Jesse James returns in a backup role coming off a career-low 53.7 overall grade, while 2019 seventh-rounder Isaac Nauta is a solid blocker who doesn’t provide much in the passing game. Undrafted free agent Hunter Bryant, however, is a potential “move” tight end option who could add another pass-game threat.”
Overall, the Lions have invested plenty of capital into their tight ends. And if the unit, as a whole, was to fall into the top-10 range, many Lions fans would take it.