The good: There probably wasn't any position group on the 2022 Detroit Lions that went through as much transition than at tight end. The Lions made the decision at the trade deadline to move Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson to Minnesota in return for picks, including the Vikings' second rounder in this year's NFL Draft.
Hockenson went on to have a solid season with the Vikings, and Detroit's tight end room didn't really skip a beat in his absence. In fact, the 12 touchdowns recorded by Lions tight ends in 2022 (three by Hockenson) was a franchise record and the second most in the NFL this season behind only Kansas City. Brock Wright (4), Shane Zylstra (4) and James Mitchell (1) notched nine touchdowns on the year to keep that unit productive even without Hockenson.
Wright had a 51-yard game-winning touchdown late vs. the Jets. Zylstra notched three touchdown receptions in a Week 16 loss in Carolina. Wright's 51-yard score was the second longest by a tight end in 2022.
Wright, Zylstra and Mitchell were also very capable blockers on the edge in the run and pass game.
View photos of the Detroit Lions tight ends from the 2022 NFL season.
The bad: Wright, Zylstra and Mitchell combined for just 40 receptions all season. That trio did score nine touchdowns though so they certainly made the most of the opportunities they did have. Wright led the group with 18 receptions for 216 yards and four TDs.
Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson's offense didn't feature a heavy workload in the passing game for the tight end position. The Lions' offense plays a lot under center, utilizes motion and plays mostly 11 personnel (one RB, one TE, 3 WR). In fact, Detroit played 11 personnel 64 percent of the time. Detroit used two tight end sets just 11 percent of the time in 2022.
Key stat: Quarterback Jared Goff had a 141.7 passer rating when throwing to Wright (18-of-24, 216 yds, 4 TD, 0 INT), a 139.8 rating throwing Mitchell's way (11-of-11, 113 yds, 1 TD, 0 INT) and a 119.7 rating throwing at Zylstra (11-of-15, 60 yds, 4 TD, 0 INT). Those ratings were the three highest of any pass catcher Goff threw to in 2022.
Wright wasn't a high-volume pass catcher in this offense, but he really made the most of the opportunities he had. All four of Wright's touchdowns on the year came in Detroit victories, including his touchdown late against the Jets that was the game winner. Wright is a very capable blocker and has had a nice start to his career after going undrafted in 2021.
Most improved: Mitchell
Mitchell was still rehabbing a knee injury suffered in college and had a late start to the year. He was brought along pretty slowly in training camp and didn't record his first reception until Week 8. Mitchell caught his first touchdown in the Week 9 win over Green Bay and by the end of the year was a reliable target (caught all 11 of his targets) and solid pass protector on the edge. Mitchell was Pro Football Focus' highest graded pass blocker at the tight end position in 2022.
Free agents: Wright (exclusive rights), Zylstra (exclusive rights)
Being an exclusive rights free agent means a player has just two or fewer accrued seasons and an expired contract. All the Lions have to do is extend a contract offer to the player and they are unable to negotiate with another team.
When it comes to the free agent market, a few veterans could be available including Dalton Schultz (Dallas), Mike Gesicki (Miami), Evan Engram (Jacksonville), Robert Tonyan Jr. (Green Bay) and Hayden Hurst (Cincinnati).
Draft: I've already seen one early mock draft that has the Lions going tight end at No. 18. Not sure how Lions fans feel about that one. The Lions drafted Mitchell in the fifth round last year and like the trajectory he's on, but don't be surprised if general manager Brad Holmes continues to add to that room via the draft.
The top tight ends available in this year's draft include Michael Mayer (Notre Dame), Luke Musgrave (Oregon State), Dalton Kincaid (Utah) and Sam LaPorta (Iowa).
Quotable: "I was excited," Wright said after the Jets game of seeing how much open field there was in front of him on his 51-yard touchdown. "Josh (Reynolds) had a huge block there and just happy we were able to get in on that one.
"Just kept telling myself to reset and finish (after a drop earlier in the game). Didn't have my best game ... but was telling myself to finish and we were able to come out with the win and I think that's most important."