INDIANAPOLIS – Detroit's depth at tight end was challenged some toward the end of last season when a thumb injury ended T.J. Hockenson’s season prematurely after 12 games.
When No. 2 tight end Brock Wright missed a Week 17 game in Seattle and fullback/tight end Jason Cabinda was also out with a knee injury, the Lions' depth at the position was stressed.
The team recently re-signed Cabinda. Wright is an exclusive rights free agent, so the Lions can have him back in 2022. Jared Pinkney was signed off the Rams practice squad and is under contract through 2022. Shane Zylstra and Jordan Thomas also landed futures deals from the team this offseason.
Still, don't be surprised if the Lions look to add to their tight end room this offseason, and the draft could be a good place to look.
Hockenson, who was a Pro Bowler in 2020, was well on his way to passing his 2020 numbers before the thumb injury. He finished with 61 receptions for 583 yards and four touchdowns. He is one of the best young tight ends in the league and Detroit's clear No. 1 at the position. The Lions have until May to pick up Hockenson's fifth-year option on his rookie contract.
Wright was a pleasant surprise for the Lions last season as an undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame. When Darren Fells didn't work out in Detroit and Wright was elevated to the No. 2 spot, he produced 12 catches for 117 yards and a couple touchdowns from Weeks 10-17. More of a blocking tight end for the Irish in college, Wright showed he can make some plays in the passing game as a rookie in Detroit.
There isn't a Hockenson or Noah Fant or Kyle Pitts prospect in this draft at tight end. There might not even be a tight end drafted in the first round, but that actually benefits a team like the Lions, who could be in the market Day 2 or Day 3 to add to their tight end room.
There were 21 tight ends invited to this year's combine with varying skillsets.
Some of the top names include Trey McBride (Colorado State), Jalen Wydermyer (Texas A&M), Isaiah Likely (Coastal Carolina), Jeremy Ruckert (Ohio State), Cade Otton (Washington) and Greg Dulcich (UCLA).
McBride is widely considered the tight end in this class. He won the John Mackey Award as the best tight end in college football last year after catching 90 passes for 1,121 yards, though he reached the end zone just one time.
"I think I'm a playmaker," McBride said at the Combine. "I'm a winner and a guy that can catch the ball, very tough strong hands and physical and gritty in the run game, as well."
View photos from media availability at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine on Thursday, March 3, 2022 in Indianapolis.
Head coach Dan Campbell and the Lions would love his toughness as a blocker in-line.
McBride was probably the best tight end at the Senior Bowl last month, but Ruckert also impressed before suffering a minor foot injury. He didn't get a ton of opportunities to make plays (26 receptions) at Ohio State with all their skill-position weapons, but showed in Mobile he can be a multi-faceted tight end.
"I don't know if underrated is the word. I have confidence in myself. People may not think that (pass catching) is one of my strengths, but I believe in myself" Ruckert said. "I know I can do it and it comes naturally to me. The biggest thing throughout this whole process is just to be myself and trust my abilities. That's what got me here."
This tight end class has a player for any skill type teams are looking for, so it could be the perfect opportunity for the Lions to add competition to that position group.