The Detroit Lions used a three-man rotation of tight ends last season after T.J. Hockenson was traded to the Vikings.
The results were better than might have been expected, but the timing is right to upgrade the unit in the draft.
There are projections that as many as five tight ends have grades that warrant being drafted in the first round.
General manager Brad Holmes is not discounting the production the tight ends made last season, but he isn't ruling out the possibility of upgrading the unit.
"We've got a good, young core of tight ends that really contributed," Holmes said at his Combine press conference. "We set a franchise record for touchdowns at the tight end position (12) collectively as a group.
"We're always looking to add, though. Those guys can play, and they've shown they can play."
The franchise record included three TD catches by Hockenson before the trade. Brock Wright and Shane Zylstra each had four. Rookie James Mitchell had one.
Following is a preview of the 2023 tight end draft strength, the Lions' depth and draft priority at the position, and five prospects who could interest the Lions.
View photos of the top tight end prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Tight end draft strength: A strong class with versatility.
The Lions' depth, draft priority: Adding a consistent go-to threat and a blocker are priorities.
Five prospects who could interest the Lions:
(40-yard dash times are from Combine and Pro Day workouts as available)
1. Michael Mayer, Notre Dame:
6-4 1/2, 249. 4.70 40.
Productive three-year player, played 36 career games with 28 starts, 180 receptions, 2,099 yards and 18 TDs. Averaged more than 10 yards per catch in all three seasons.
Bottom line: Mayer had three games in 2022 with more than 100 receiving yards and closed out his season with 98 yards in a loss to Southern Cal.
2. Dalton Kincaid, Utah:
Played briefly in 2020 – five games, one catch – but developed rapidly his last two seasons. Caught 36 passes for 510 yards and eight TDs in 2021, then came back in 2022 to catch 70 for 890 yards and eight more TDs.
Bottom line: Size might be an issue, but he's been productive.
3. Darnell Washington, Georgia:
6-7, 264. 4.64 40.
Played 36 games in three years with 45 career catches and three TDs.
Bottom line: His raw receiving stats are not impressive, but his size is as a blocker and a short-range receiving target.
4. Luke Musgrave, Oregon St.:
6-6, 253. 4.61 40.
For his career, he played in 34 games from 2019-22, with 47 catches for 633 yards and two TDs.
Bottom line: Musgrave comes from a football family. His father, Doug, and uncle, Bill, played quarterback at Oregon.
5. Sam LaPorta, Iowa:
6-3, 245. 4.59 40.
A four-year player – 46 career games, 32 starts – he put together solid stats in his final two seasons. He had 53 catches for 670 yards in 2021 and 58 catches for 657 yards in 2022.
Bottom line: The Iowa pipeline to the NFL continues. George Kittle, Noah Fant and Hockenson are recent Iowa tight ends who made it to the NFL as prominent players.