2022 NFL Draft Preview: Deep-tight end class could benefit Detroit Lions

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The Detroit Lions currently have a roster of eight tight ends, but that doesn’t accurately describe the room’s talent.

Last year the Lions tried a few things to improve the depth of the position and they all fell apart. First, Josh Hill retired as a free agent just a few months after signing with the Lions. Then veteran tight end Darren Fells requested a release two months into the season.

As a result, the Lions had to test a number of young tight-end options and, for the most part, none separated as a clear TE2 option behind TJ Hockenson going forward. Many of those projects remain on the roster, but the Lions would be wise to consider a player with more potential in this year’s draft class.

So let’s take a closer look at Part 4 of our 2022 Detroit Lions Draft Preview.

Previously: quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers

Under contract: TJ Hockenson (under contract until 2022*), Jason Cabinda (2023), Brock Wright (2022), Garrett Griffin (2022), Hunter Bryant (2022), Shane Zylstra (2022), Jared Pinkney (2022), Matt Sokol (2022 )

*Hockenson has an option in year five to extend it to 2023. The Lions didn’t exercise them but are expected.

Short term needs: 5/10
Long-term requirement: 8/10

The Lions have plenty of names in the tight end position that should make for some good off-season competition, but none of them have proven capable of taking on TE2’s full-time role, and none come close Able to take over Hockenson’s role should he get injured.

Brock Wright is probably the Lions’ closest thing, and the coaching staff seem to like him relatively well. At just 23 years old, chances are he hasn’t reached his developmental milestone yet, but the Lions have also opted to bring in former Saints tight end Garrett Griffin – someone Dan Campbell is more than familiar with – indicating that this job is still very up for grabs. The Lions could likely get away with not addressing that need from TE2 this year, but the future looks bleak given that position.

Not a single backup — unless you include “superback” Jason Cabinda — will be signed beyond this year, and there are even questions about Hockenson’s long-term viability here. Though general manager Brad Holmes said they’ve started internal talks about a possible extension, Hockenson’s inability to stay healthy should be a serious concern and could pose a stumbling block if the young tight end hopes to be among the league’s highest-paid tight ends .

In other words, tight end should be considered a pretty serious long-term necessity, especially considering how often the Lions like to field two sets of tight ends.

Day 1/Day 2 options: Trey McBride from the state of Colorado, UCLAby Greg Dulcich, State of Ohioby Jeremy Ruckert, Washington Cade Otton

McBride is the consensus of top tight end prospects and it would likely cost the Lions the No. 34 or, if they’re lucky, the No. 66 to snap him up. That might be a bit high given Detroit’s other more pressing needs, but it might also be worth it. He’s a football guy who put together 1,121 yards receiving and blocking his butt. He’s not as athletic as Hockenson, but he’s a versatile player that Campbell will love.

You may remember Dulcich as our own Erik Schlitt’s best guess at the player the Lions traded for in the senior bowl roster selection. This is what Erik had to say about him at the time:

Dulcich is a converted wide receiver who has only been playing tight end for two seasons, has a very high ceiling and could be considered a sleeper.

Dulcich is still a work in progress as a blocker and that might make him a tough candidate for the TE2 role right away, but it’s entirely possible that the Lions found some potential there when they got their hands on him in Mobile .

Ruckert was at the Senior Bowl too, but for the Jets. At 6-foot-5, 252 pounds, he’s a blocker both mentally and physically, although his form could use some tweaking. But he also shows tremendous receptivity, with big, reliable hands.

Otton has almost the same build as Ruckert and is a bit more sophisticated as a blocker, but lacks Ruckert’s advantage when catching passes due to his average athleticism. Despite this, his distance running is better than you would expect from someone with average movement.

Mid/Late Round Options: Coastal Carolina’s Isaiah Likely, San Diego State’s Daniel Bellinger, Wisconsin’s Jake Ferguson, Texas A&Mis Jalen Wydermyer

Likely is another tight end coached by the Lions at the Senior Bowl. Despite a disappointing performance at Combine NFL, probably shows some functional athleticism on tape. After rushing for 912 yards and a whopping 12 touchdowns last year, he was named a second-team All American. More in the form of an F-tight end (reception), the Lions would look to improve his blocking abilities, which are still a work in progress.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Bellinger was coached by the Lions at the Senior Bowl. More so, Bellinger won the top tight end award of the week in Mobile, voted for by his teammates. He is the opposite of Likely as his defensive skills are already well developed and he has limited options as a receiver. But he was a team captain and a special teamer, so he will bring the necessary bite that Campbell will lust after.

Ferguson is a somewhat frustrating prospect because you can see he’s a well-balanced, functional option for any tight end role, but it doesn’t show up often enough. He’s a fixer-upper, and since he’s seen as a strong worker and willing blocker, there’s a good chance he has some untapped potential from his days as a badger.

Wydermyer didn’t run at the NFL Combine, and after his 5.01 on his pro day, it’s clear why. But it’s hard to shake the notion that Campbell could have additional intrigue in a tight end from his alma mater. Wydermyer notched up an impressive 16 touchdowns in three years as Aggie and showed he was at least capable as both a blocker and receiver. The low athletic records could drop him wide in the draft, and the Lions would get a good score for him with a 181 or 217 in the sixth round.

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