The Detroit Lions have a couple talented and versatile tight ends under contract for 2018 in Eric Ebron and Michael Roberts. But the position beyond next season is somewhat in doubt.
Ebron is entering the final year of his rookie contract, a fifth-year team option picked up by the club last May. He was terrific the second half of this past season, and hopefully he picks up where he left off.
Roberts, a fourth-round pick last season, has some versatility to his game, and should take on a bigger role in his second season.
Veteran Darren Fells, Detroit’s No. 2 tight end for the majority of last season, is an unrestricted free agent.
With Ebron’s long-term future in doubt, and Fells potentially heading to free agency, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that GM Bob Quinn will look to bolster the unit for a second consecutive draft.
With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the top tight end prospects participating in the NFL Scouting Combine later this month:
School: Penn State
Ht/Wt: 6-5, 242
View photos of the prospects participating in the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine.
Best trait: Ball skills. Gesicki is a very good route runner with deceptive speed. He’s caught 105 balls with 14 touchdowns the last two seasons.
Concern: He’s not going to line up and knock anyone off the ball in the run game. He needs to get stronger and improve his run blocking.
Skinny: Gesicki is a player who can step in right away as a pass-catching tight end and make some plays. He’s kind of limited to that role early on, which some teams may shy away from.
School: South Dakota State
Ht/Wt: 6-5, 255
Best trait: Production. He caught 92 passes for 1,293 yards and 11 touchdowns as a junior, which put him on the NFL radar. He followed that up with 72 receptions for 1,111 yards and another seven scores last season. He has the kind of size, speed and athleticism teams love at the position.
Concern: All that production came against an inferior level of competition. Will the speed, athleticism and play-making ability translate to the NFL level against a much better caliber of linebacker and safeties covering him?
Skinny: He’s a former high school basketball player with terrific ball skills. He put up terrific numbers in college, and should be able to make an impact in a pass-catching role right away as a rookie.
School: South Carolina
Ht/Wt: 6-5, 250
Best trait: All-around game. He’s a little older (25) and wiser than his fellow tight ends, and seems to play that way. South Carolina used him in a lot of roles. He’s a well-rounded prospect.
Concern: Age. He’ll be a 25-year-old rookie after being drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 17th round and flirting with a pitching career for a couple years.
Skinny: NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein described Hurst as being a player who could potentially be an early security blanket for a quarterback. That’s probably the best way to describe Hurst’s game.
Ht/Wt: 6-5, 248
Best trait: Physicality. Thomas isn’t afraid of a little contact, and sometimes goes looking for it after the catch. He has an NFL-ready frame, and just needs some coaching and more reps.
Concern: Thomas is a bit raw having played really only one full year at Indiana after taking the community college route to the Big Ten. He’ll need to clean up some technical issues as a blocker.
Skinny: There’s a little bit of projection that has to take place with Thomas because there isn’t a long history of production. He has all the physical traits teams are looking for, and could be molded into a pretty fine player.
Ht/Wt: 6-5, 253
Best trait: Receiving ability. He won the John Mackey Award and earned first-team All-American accolades becoming Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield's top target with 62 receptions for 958 yards and eight touchdowns. He's a terrific route runner, and was very good in the red zone at Oklahoma.
Concern: He’s not a burner. He’s not going to pull away from defenders and make a lot of plays down the field at the NFL level. A former receiver turned tight end, his blocking abilities are somewhat limited too.
Skinny: He's a player teams can line up in-line as a receiving tight end or move outside to feature as a bigger slot guy. He's a pass-catching tight end, and a good one in that role.