The Detroit Lions ignored some forgettable draft history and took the plunge again to address perhaps their top need.

Detroit selected Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson with the No. 8 overall pick in the NFL draft Thursday night, deciding he was too good to pass up after considering trading their first-round pick to acquire more selections. Tight ends are becoming a position where teams want difference-makers — and the Lions are hoping they’ve finally found one who will pan out for them.

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE – APRIL 25: T.J. Hockenson of Iowa greets NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being chosen #8 overall by the Detroit Lions during the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft on April 25, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

“The game is always moving toward the tight end position,” Detroit coach Matt Patricia said. “That’s the mismatch everybody is trying to figure out.”

Detroit drafted Eric Ebron No. 10 overall in 2014 and Brandon Pettigrew a decade ago with the 20th pick overall and ended up releasing both. Ebron ended up flourishing last season with the Indianapolis Colts and seems to keep tabs on his old team via social media.

NEW YORK, NY – MAY 08: Eric Ebron of the North Carolina Tar Heels poses with a jersey after he was picked #10 overall by the Detroit Lions during the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall on May 8, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Lions general manager Bob Quinn didn’t plan to spend much time, if any, sharing the team’s tight end history with Hockenson.

“We’re not going to revisit a draft I wasn’t even a part of,” Quinn said after making his fourth first-round pick in charge of a front office.

Since taking Pettigrew in 2009, the only other tight end selected among the top 20 picks in the NFL draft was O.J. Howard, who was taken No. 19 by Tampa Bay in 2017. The last time a team took a tight end No. 8 or higher was when San Francisco selected Vernon Davis sixth overall in 2006.

IOWA CITY, IOWA- NOVEMBER 04: Tight end T.J. Hockenson #38 of the Iowa Hawkeyes celebrates a touchdown during the third quarter against the Ohio State Buckeyes on November 04, 2017 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa. (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)

Hockenson insisted he doesn’t feel a need to prove he was worth the investment.

“I don’t put pressure on myself,” he said.

Hockenson won the John Mackey Award last year, honoring the college football’s top tight end. He had 73 receptions for 1,080 yards and nine receiving touchdowns in his career with the Hawkeyes, who also counted on him being a key blocker.

WEST LAFAYETTE, IN – NOVEMBER 03: T.J. Hockenson #38 of the Iowa Hawkeyes catches a touchdown pass in the end zone as Kenneth Major #2 of the Purdue Boilermakers defends at Ross-Ade Stadium on November 3, 2018 in West Lafayette, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

“He can do the dirty work in the run game, get open in the passing game,” Patricia said. “Really puts a lot of pressure on the defense. He’s a real, tough guy to tackle. He does a good job of turning small plays into big plays.”

The 6-foot-5, 251-pound Hockenson, who is from Chariton, Iowa, was a second-team All-America and first-team All-Big Ten player last season. He led Iowa with 760 yards receiving and was second on the team with 49 receptions and six touchdowns.

“It’s become a valued position,” Hockenson said. “A three-down tight end who can run past defenders when needed and block when needed is special.”

BLOOMINGTON, IN – OCTOBER 13: T.J. Hockenson #38 of the Iowa Hawkeyes runs for a touchdown against the Indiana Hossiers at Memorial Stadium on October 13, 2018 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Detroit’s new offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell, will have a chance to put two receivers on the field with James and Hockenson. In four years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, James had 120 receptions for 1,189 yards and nine touchdowns.

The Lions needed to invest in pass-catching options for quarterback Matthew Stafford. Until taking Hockenson, the franchise had drafted only one receiver (Kenny Golladay) and one tight end (Michael Roberts) since the 2014 draft when it selected Ebron, and that led to the offense struggling last season.

Outside and inside the organization, drafting Hockenson seemed likely if he was available.

IOWA CITY, IOWA- SEPTEMBER 01: Tight end T.J. Hockenson #38 of the Iowa Hawkeyes is tripped up during the first half by safety Mykelti Williams #8 of the Northern Illinois Huskies on September 1, 2018 at Kinnick Stadium, in Iowa City, Iowa. (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)

“He’s a guy we targeted early in the process,” Quinn said. “He’s a three-down, four-down player that is going to be a big part of our offense.”

During the draft Friday night and Saturday, Detroit may look to fill voids at wide receiver, offensive guard and safety.

The Lions need all the help they can get after losing seven of their last 10 games under Patricia in his first year and finishing with double digits in losses for the first time since 2012. They went into the draft with fewer needs after making many moves in free agency.

Detroit signed Trey Flowers and re-signed Romeo Okwara to turn defensive end into a potential strength. James, wide receiver Danny Amendola, cornerbacks Justin Coleman and Rashaan Melvin, and running back C.J. Anderson were also added to make the depth chart look better for Patricia’s second season.

© 2019 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


Leave a Reply