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2022 training camp preview: Tight end

On the roster: T.J. Hockenson, Brock Wright, James Mitchell, Shane Zylstra, Derrick Deese Jr., Garrett Griffin, Devin Funchess, Nolan Givan

Key losses: None

Table inside Article
Name Games Rec. Yards Avg TD
T.J. Hockenson 12 61 583 9.6 4
Garrett Griffin^ 13 4 39 9.8 0
Brock Wright 10 12 117 9.8 2
James Mitchell* 2 5 42 8.4 1
Shane Zylstra 4 3 34 11.3 0
Derrick Deese Jr.* 12 47 730 15.5 4
Devin Funchess^ 0 0 0 0.0 0
Nolan Givan* 13 56 572 10.2 6

^with another team *college stats

Best competition: Who is No. 2 behind Hockenson?

Entering his fourth season, Hockenson has risen to become one of the better young receiving threats at tight end in the NFL. He's expected to play a big role in Ben Johnson's first year as offensive coordinator. Don't forget Johnson was the tight ends coach before he was elevated to pass game coordinator and eventually OC this offseason. He knows Hockenson and how his skills translate to the field better than anyone.

The real question mark is who will be the No. 2 guy in Detroit, and then subsequently No. 3.

The Lions didn't use two tight end formations a lot last year. They were in two-plus tight end formations 19 percent of the time. The league average was 28 percent. Johnson was definitely exploring the idea of moving Hockenson around more in the spring, which could mean him lining him up wide or in the slot and using the No. 2 guy in-line in some situations. Hockenson has missed nine games due to injury over his first three seasons, so depth is important at those second and third spots.

Wright went from an undrafted free agent, who was mostly thought of as a block-first player, to Detroit's No. 1 tight end at the end of the season filling in for Hockenson (thumb). He made a couple nice touchdown grabs down the stretch and showed he can make plays in the passing game. He should come back even better in year two.

Mitchell, the team's fifth-round draft pick this offseason, played in only two games last season for Virginia Tech because of a torn ACL. He didn't take part in the offseason training program and could start training camp on the PUP list, but he's got a nice skillset.

Zylstra had a really good spring and will be in the mix as well. The wildcard here is the veteran Funchess. He's had some productive years in the NFL, and his size could make for an interesting threat as a receiving tight end.

View photos of the Detroit Lions tight ends heading into training camp.

Twentyman's take: Hockenson has already been to a Pro Bowl, but he's poised for a monster season, if he can stay healthy. I think the additions the Lions have made at wide receiver, specifically with DJ Chark and Jameson Williams, along with bringing back Josh Reynolds, really solidified that receiver room and will make defenses have to adjust to Detroit's speed and vertical threat on the outside. That could give more one-on-one matchups to players like Hockenson and running back D'Andre Swift.

After his fast start last season, Hockenson started seeing a lot more double teams. He really has a chance to benefit from that increased threat on the perimeter in the middle of the field in Detroit's offense.

I'm excited to see what Mitchell and Deese can do when they get healthy. Deese averaged better than 15.0 yards per reception last year in college. Mitchell has good size and a versatile skill set.

I was impressed with Wright at the end of the season. He didn't get an opportunity to catch a lot of balls at Notre Dame and that hurt his draft stock. He was signed after the draft, made the initial 53-man roster, and when he got a chance to play late in the year got himself into the end zone a couple times and made some plays. What will he look like early in his second camp? Can he be Detroit's No. 2?

One player we can't forget to mention when talking about the tight end position is fullback Jason Cabinda, who the Lions coaching staff felt very comfortable playing in some tight end roles last year. He's versatile blocker and pass catcher, and his skillset fits there.

By the numbers:

12: Touchdowns recorded by Hockenson through his first three seasons, the most by a tight end in his first three seasons in team history.

60: Amon-Ra St. Brown (90), Swift (62) and Hockenson (61) became the first trio of wide receiver, tight end and running back to record at least 60 receptions in the same season for the Lions. The Steelers were the only other team in the NFL last season to accomplish it.

72.6: Catch percentage for Hockenson was the sixth highest in the NFL in 2021 among all receivers. His 11 contested catches were fifth most.

275: Receptions by Lions pass catchers under the age of 25 last season, the third most in the NFL. Hockenson, Wright and Zylstra were among that group of players.

295: Wright's snap total last year was the third most among all undrafted players.

Quotable: "Ben has seen me do routes that most guys or coordinators wouldn't think that a tight end could do," Hockenson said during June's minicamp. "Splitting me out, running a comeback, splitting me out and running things that really only wide receivers do.

"He's seen me run it and he's seen me run it well. Just being able to have that in his head – we're already seeing it now (with me) being split out and doing some things and showing what we got.

"When you have guys like (Chark, Reynolds and Williams) that can extend the field on the outside and make those safeties really not take it for granted and they have to go play over there and not sit in the middle of the field, it's a big thing for a tight end and a slot receiver. Kind of opens up the field. At that point you're playing on linebackers and some nickel (corners) and that's always fun. I like that rather than the safety over the top and the nickel underneath. It'll be good."

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