The biggest reshaping of the Lions roster this offseason took place at the tight end position, and it was much needed after the team hired Darrell Bevell to be their new offensive coordinator.
Detroit’s tight ends accounted for just 13 percent (43) of the team’s catches last season. Levine Toilolo led them with 21 receptions. There were 41 tight ends around the league who recorded more than 21 receptions on the season and there were 14 tight ends league-wide who had more catches than all of the Lions’ tight ends combined.
Detroit was in 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends, two receivers) just 12 percent of the time in 2018, and played the majority of their snaps out of three receiver sets, or 11 personnel.
The refitting of the position began with the signing of veteran Jesse James on the first day of free agency. Then the team added veteran Logan Thomas a little less than a week later in free agency. The following month, Detroit drafted tight end T.J. Hockenson with the No. 8 overall pick and used another late-round draft pick on tight end in Isaac Nauta.
It was a complete makeover for the tight end room and Bevell says it should allow him to be able to do a lot of different things within his offense.
“I think that whole room has been a big upgrade in all ways,” he said. “From Jesse to T.J. to Logan… it’s a great group for us to work with to kind of sift through those guys and find out what they’re doing well.
“But that’s a talented group. We’re really excited about all of those guys.”
Even in the spring through the open OTA and minicamp practices the use of the tight end position as multi-deployable weapon was evident. Whether it was one-, two- or sometimes three-tight end sets, Detroit’s tight ends moved around and Bevell dabbled with a lot of different personnel groupings.
“I think it’s going to give us the ability to do a lot of things,” Bevell said. “We’ll still use our three wideouts as well. All the personnel groups, I think you’ll be able to see a lot of those. They (the tight ends) give us a lot of flexibility.”
That wasn’t necessarily the case a season ago with Luke Willson, Toilolo and Michael Roberts, all of whom are no longer on the roster.
This is a much more athletic and versatile group of tight ends heading into 2019, which opens up more possibilities within Bevell’s offense to attack defenses in a multitude of ways from week to week. It probably won’t be the same attack every week, either, as both Bevell and head coach Matt Patricia have talked this offseason about wanting to be versatile and flexible on the offensive side of the ball depending on the matchup.
The reshaping of the tight end position was one of the big keys this offseason so that the Lions would be able to do just that.
View the best photos of the tight ends from offseason workouts.