The value of the tight end position in the NFL has skyrocketed over the years. Travis Kelce, Darren Waller and Kyle Pitts are some of the best pass-catching weapons in the league right now. They are matchup nightmares for defenses.
There isn't a Pitts in this year's draft class, but it's a solid group overall.
Top 5 tight ends to watch at the Combine:
1. Trey McBride, Colorado State, 6-3, 249
McBride is a good two-way player with strength and soft hands. He had a good week down at the Senior Bowl, where he showed he's a willing and capable in-line blocker. He caught 90 passes for 1,121 yards in 12 games this past season, though he did have just one touchdown. McBride has shown an ability to make tough catches in a crowd. He's a complete player at the position.
2. Jeremy Ruckert, Ohio State, 6-5, 250
Ruckert was more of a blocker at Ohio State because of their weapons on the outside at receiver, but there were some down in Mobile who thought Ruckert was the best tight end at the Senior Bowl for the week. He showed some fluidness in his route running and an ability to separate and make plays in the passing game. He caught 26 passes for 309 yards and three scores for the Buckeyes this past season.
View photos of the tight end prospects who were invited to the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine.
3. Cade Otton, Washington, 6-5, 250
A four-year starter with a ton of experience, Otton is a really good route runner and above average run blocker. He's got a complete game and will likely hear his named called Day 2 of the draft. He played high school ball for his grandpa Sid Otton, the winningest coach in Washington state high school history, so he's got a football pedigree. Otton also has a good basketball background, which serves him well on the football field.
4. Isaiah Likely, Coastal Carolina, 6-4, 240
Likely had a propensity for the big play at Coastal Carolina, recording five career touchdown receptions of 50-plus yards. He needs to add strength and improve his technique as a blocker, but the team that selects Likely can use him as a pass-catching weapon who can stretch the field from the position early on. He caught 59 passes for 912 yards and 12 scores in 13 games this past season.
5. Greg Dulcich, UCLA, 6-4, 250
Dulcich has a big frame and large catch radius, and was a big-play pass catcher from the position for the Bruins the last couple seasons. He averaged 17.3 and 19.9 yards per reception the last two seasons with 10 total touchdowns. He's a respectable blocker, but that part of his game needs to continue to develop.
Combine sleeper to watch: Jalen Wydermyer, Texas A&M, 6-5, 255
Wydermyer is a big, physical tight end with an NFL-ready frame. He caught 118 passes with 16 touchdowns over the course of the last three seasons as a starter for the Aggies. He's got a huge catch radius and knows how to use his big frame to his advantage. If he tests well at the Combine, he could be a solid Day 2 pick.
Lions need at the position: Low
T.J. Hockenson was on his way to breaking his Pro Bowl numbers from 2020, if not for season-ending thumb injury that required surgery and knocked him out of the last five games. Still, Hockenson caught 61 passes for 583 yards and four touchdowns in 12 games. He's one of the bright young tight ends in the league.
Undrafted rookie free agent Brock Wright filled in for Hockenson at the end of the season and played pretty well. He wasn't used much as a receiving option at Notre Dame, but he showed an ability to make plays down the field in the passing game with the Lions recording two long touchdowns at the end of the year. He's an ascending player and a solid No. 2 behind Hockenson.
The Lions would probably like to add a third player to the mix to round out that group, whether that be a veteran free agent or a young player in Day 2 or 3 of the draft.
Key stat: Hockenson joined Ravens tight end Mark Andrews as the only tight ends to have four-or-more games with at least eight receptions this season. Hockenson is the only Lions tight end to do so in a season in franchise history.