Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn was true to his word about drafting a tight end in the first round this year if the right opportunity presented itself.
He said it at the Combine workouts in February, and again in his annual pre-draft press conference earlier this month.
If it was the right move for the team, Quinn would do it, regardless of if it was unpopular with fans and media.
Quinn walked his talk Thursday night by drafting tight end T.J. Hockenson of Iowa with the eighth overall pick.
Go behind the scenes to view photos from the Detroit Lions draft room on Thursday, April 25, 2019.
There were a couple of quality defensive players still on the board when Quinn took Hockenson. Among them were two players who went off the board immediately after Hockenson. Defensive lineman Ed Oliver of Houston went to the Bills at No 9, and linebacker Devin Bush went to the Steelers, who traded up to No. 10 to make the pick.
Either one of them, and a handful of others on the board, could have helped the Lions. But Quinn felt that Hockenson would help more.
Quinn seemed unfazed by any negative reaction when he spoke at his press conference around midnight. He got the player he wanted for his team, and that’s what counted.
Quinn has been resolute in building the roster in his four years as general manager. The Lions took a step back to 6-10 last year after a pair of 9-7 won-loss records in his first two seasons, but there are signs that better days could be ahead in 2019.
Part of that could be how this offseason the Lions have rebuilt a tight end position that was a void in the offense last year. First they signed free agent Jesse James, formerly of Pittsburgh, and then drafted Hockenson, the consensus top-rated player at his position.
“We felt really, really good about that,” Quinn said of drafting Hockenson. “He’s a guy we targeted early in the process. A three-down, four-down player. That a big part of our offense going forward.
“He really checked every box we had in terms of the evaluation process.”
Quinn listed the areas where Hockenson can upgrade the offense – red zone, blocking, character, intelligence and others.
“You name it, he checked basically every box throughout the whole process,” Quinn said.
Much of the sentiment for not drafting a tight end stems from the 2014 selection of Eric Ebron, who was drafted 10th overall by the Lions and never lived up to his lofty draft position in Detroit. Fans never warmed to him.
Quinn said he doesn’t expect to spend much time talking to Hockenson about where Ebron went awry.
“Two totally different players,” he said.
Hockenson was a productive two-year player at Iowa after a 2016 red-shirt season. In 26 games he produced 73 catches for 1,080 yards, nine touchdowns and an average of 14.8 yards per catch. Coming from the small Iowa town of Chanton, with a population of about 4,000 he made the jump to big-time football.
Now he has another one to make. He seems mentally equipped to handle it.
“Tight end is a unique position,” he said in a conference-call interview Thursday night from the NFL draft headquarters in Nashville. “It really is. There are a lot of different things that go into it. There are a lot of things you have to learn.”
When asked if he had modeled his play after any other tight ends, he mentioned a number of ones he watched but made it clear he wants to be known for his own style of play.
“I’m my own person,” he said. “I’m my own tight end. I want to be a three-down tight end.”