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Next Man Up: T.J. Hockenson’s presence a huge win for Lions’ tight end depth

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The Lions’ decision to draft T.J. Hockenson puts everyone on the TE depth chart right where they need to be.

NCAA Football: North Texas at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

A month ago, I wrote about how the Lions were in serious trouble at the tight end position despite splurging on the position in free agency with the Jesse James signing. It may have brought the tight ends group more trouble than if they hadn’t signed James, as James was a one-man show who offered the facade of the Lions’ tight end depth being fixed. The reality, however, was that if James went down the Lions were screwed.

Oh, how the times have changed. It seems the Lions front office was smart enough not to fall for that facade. They took T.J. Hockenson with the eighth overall pick in the draft, and it slides everyone on the Lions’ tight end depth chart right to where they need to be.

Next Man Up: Jesse James

Having T.J. Hockenson on the Lions roster returns Jesse James to his rightful place as a top-tier TE2. James graded out as PFF’s 30th best tight end in 2018, and proved his ability to succeed in a complementary role as he sidekicked Vance McDonald in Pittsburgh.

James brings with him knowledge and experience that can ease the burden on Hockenson as he transitions to TE1. It’s important to remember that, historically, even the best tight ends take 2-3 years to reach an elite level of play. Having James there to split the load in the meantime will be huge to help manage the load in terms of targets and, as we’ve learned the hard way since 2013, fan expectations.

That also leaves the competition for TE3 wide open between incumbent Michael Roberts and rookie Isaac Nauta, among others. Roberts has been given many an opportunity to prove his worth as a regularly targeted tight end and failed to capitalize. The Lions drafted him in the fourth round with the hopes that his skillset would grow and he could be a successful tight end outside of the red zone, but that hasn’t been the case.

Grade: A-

There’s not much left to be desired when you look at the Lions’ tight end depth chart as it stands. I knocked the grade down to an A- simply because it’s important to temper expectations in Hockenson’s rookie year, and the reality is that James may see more TE1 action than is desired in the meantime. If the depth chart looked like this at this time next year after Hockenson had a season under his belt, however, it would be an A+.

The Lions were proactive in addressing a glaring need and plugged the hole at every level. Props to Bob Quinn & Co. for taking care of business in the tight end department this offseason.