*with Steelers +with Bills ^college stats
Best competition: Who is the No. 3?
James was a priority free agent signing and the team drafted Hockenson with the No. 8 overall pick in the draft the following month. They are 1A and 1B at the position.
Where things fall in line after that will play out in camp. Thomas, the quarterback turned tight end, has NFL experience and is athletic. He made some nice plays in the spring.
Nauta, who the team drafted in the seventh round, was rehabbing an injury and didn’t take part in the offseason training program, which puts him behind a little bit. But Lions tight ends coach Chris White loves Nauta’s hands and his ability to make tough catches look routine.
Cunningham has 12 games of NFL experience to his credit and will be in the mix as well.
View photos of the tight ends competing for roster spots heading into training camp.
Twentyman’s take: I'm interested to see if Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn will look to keep four tight ends on the initial 53-man roster or just three. Last year they kept four out of camp, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see the same thing this year, especially with the new scheme of offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.
We saw the tight ends move all over the field in the spring. They played in-line, in the slot, out wide and in the backfield. It’s a pretty versatile bunch. We could see the Lions play more 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends) than we have in the past.
The Lions missed having the tight end position be a reliable weapon for them in the passing game last season. It will be beneficial for this offense and quarterback Matthew Stafford to have playmakers at the tight end position that can stretch the middle of the field and be matchup weapons.
By the numbers:
13: Just 13 percent of Detroit’s receptions last season came from the tight end position. There were 41 tight ends around the league who recorded more receptions than Detroit’s leading pass catcher at the position (Toilolo, 21).
2: The total number of drops Hockenson had throughout his entire college playing career at Iowa.
76.9: James' catch rate for the Steelers last season, the best of his career and tops among Pittsburgh tight ends last season. James caught 30 of the 39 passes thrown his way in 2018.
Quotable: “He’s a guy we targeted early in the process,” Lions GM Bob Quinn said after taking Hockenson in the draft. “Really great player, three-down to four-down player that’s going to be a big part of our offense going forward.
“Really checked every box that we had in terms of the evaluation process from on field, to third down, to red area, to blocking, to special teams, to culture, to intelligence, to work ethic. You name it, he checked basically every box throughout the whole process. So, really excited to have him here.”