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The Detroit Lions sound like they’re drafting a tight end

Lions GM Bob Quinn likes this year’s draft class of TEs.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret that the Detroit Lions had trouble with their tight ends in 2018. With Eric Ebron no longer on the team, the Lions struggled to find a productive replacement. Levine Toilolo performed admirably, and even graded out as Pro Football Focus’ best pass-blocking tight end. However, that is pretty much the beginning and the end of tight end accomplishments from last season.

Lions’ general manager Bob Quinn took on most of the blame for the unit’s issues, admitting at the end of the season that the team swung and missed on some free agent tight ends.

“Back in March, we talked to basically every tight end on the free agent market and tried to get those guys here,” Quinn said. “Some we were close on and some we weren’t.”

During Monday night’s season-ticket holder event, Quinn reiterated those claims, but also talked about the future. He left little doubt that tight end will be one of the team’s highest priorities this offseason.

“This is a position of need. We know that,” affirmed Quinn.

So how will the Lions address this need? After striking out on the top guys in free agency last year, Quinn certainly made it sound like the NFL Draft will be his focus when it comes to tight end acquisition.

“It’s a good year in the draft for tight ends,” Quinn said. “Actually, just this morning is when we went through the tight ends with our scouts, and I’d say there’s a really good crop—there’s an unusual amount of underclassmen tight ends this year’s draft, which really fits kind of what we’re looking for.”

That last little statement is interesting: “underclassmen.” Is that a clue as to which tight ends the Lions may be targeting? Some may consider the best tight end in the draft to be Iowa’s T.J. Hockenson, who is entering the draft after completing just his sophomore year. His teammate, Noah Fant, was just a junior. In fact, the top six tight end prospects according to CBS Sports are all underclassmen.

Currently, the Lions only have two tight ends under contract for 2019: former fourth-round pick Michael Roberts (13 career receptions) and Jerome Cunningham (eight career receptions).

And while Quinn admitted they’d look in free agency as well, the class of potential signings doesn’t look all that promising. There’s the oft-injured Tyler Eifert, 32-year-old Jared Cook, or former Steelers fifth-round pick Jesse James.

Of course, considering Quinn may have been lobbing smokescreens regarding drafting a quarterback with the eighth overall pick, there’s a chance the Lions GM has another plan up his sleeve. Last year, he made an aggressive attempt to try and trade for Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. Does he have another bold attempt in his arsenal?

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