The good: Detroit selected T.J. Hockenson No. 8 overall in last year's draft to be their tight end of the future. Hockenson burst onto the scene Week 1 in Arizona catching six passes for 131 yards and a touchdown. It was the best rookie debut for a tight end in league history. That performance obviously caught the attention of defensive coordinators, and Hockenson saw greater attention shifted his way as early as the following week vs. the Los Angeles Chargers.
Hockenson didn't have another 100-yard performance all season, in fact he only reached 50 receiving yards in one other contest, but the rookie showed enough good things before landing on IR late in the year that expectations should be high for him heading into 2020. Hockenson finished his rookie season with 32 receptions for 367 yards and a couple scores.
View photos of the Detroit Lions' tight ends from the 2019 season.
The bad: James was a big free-agent signing for the Lions last March, but he didn't have the impact in his first season in Detroit most were expecting. Some of that has to do with the team drafting Hockenson and making him their No. 1 tight end, but even late in the year when Hockenson was on IR, James never stepped up and made a big impact. He finished the year with just 16 catches for 142 yards and no scores.
Key stat: Detroit's top three tight ends this past season accounted for 64 receptions. There were seven tight ends league wide with 64 or more receptions on their own. Detroit's a team that likes to distribute the ball around on offense, but the Lions will expect much more production from Hockenson and Co. in 2020.
Free agents: Thomas is an unrestricted free agent.
The Lions have Isaac Nauta waiting in the wings for a bigger role, but Thomas proved to be a nice free-agent signing last offseason. He's athletic, durable and a fine veteran reserve to have in the mix. The former quarterback turned tight end can also be an emergency option at QB, if needed.
The draft: After spending a first-round pick on tight end last year, and selecting another one late, it's not likely the Lions will be players in the tight end market early in this year's draft.
This year's tight end class isn't as highly ranked as last year's, when we saw two tight ends go in the first round (Hockenson and Noah Fant) and three players at the position taken in the top 50 picks (Irv Smith Jr.).
Jared Pinkney (Vanderbilt), Albert Okwuegbunam (Missouri), Bryce Hopkins (Purdue), Harrison Bryant (Florida Atlantic) and Hunter Bryant (Washington) are some of the names who will come off the board first at the position, but maybe not until Day 2.
MVP: Hockenson had his ups and downs as a rookie both as a receiver and blocker, but tight end is a tough position to learn. It's one of the reasons why we never see a tight end come into the league and light it up in their first year.
Hockenson did show enough athletically to feel pretty good about where he can reach as a player with a year under his belt and an offseason to focus on getting his body right and improving on the things he needs to get better at.
Most improved: Since making the switch from quarterback to tight end a few years back in Buffalo, Thomas enjoyed career highs in catches (16), yards (173) and tied a career high with one touchdown this past season.
Quotable: "I mean some of those guys obviously we drafted, and they played, and we wanted them to play and I think some of them played because of injuries," Lions general manager Bob Quinn said of this year's draft class. "But I think we feel good about our draft class. The biggest jump is from Year 1 to Year 2, so we want those guys to make a big jump. T.J. (Hockenson) is going to come back healthy."