Last year, the Detroit Lions attacked the tight end position with a surprising amount of vigor. Not only did they spend a top-10 pick on T.J. Hockenson, but they also dealt out a huge contract to free agent Jesse James.
While both players remain on the roster for the 2020 season—and the two additional seasons beyond—tight end remains a moderate need for the Lions. They allowed their third-string TE Logan Thomas to hit free agency, so there is no proven talent left to serve as depth on the roster behind James and Hockenson.
While it’s true that 2019 seventh-round pick Isaac Nauta could slide into that role, the former Georgia Bulldog only had a handful of snaps at fullback last year and didn’t look quite ready to take on a significant role.
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Under contract (last year under contract): T.J. Hockenson (2022), Jesse James (2022), Isaac Nauta (2020), Paul Butler (2020), Matt Sokol (2020)
Level of need: 5/10
At the very least, the Lions need to acquire some backup competition at tight end. Don’t get it twisted, Hockenson and James are TE1 and TE2. That won’t change after the draft, but Detroit needs some sort of insurance should either player suffer an injury. That insurance could very well arrive as a late Day 2 or early Day 3 pick.
Second-round options: Adam Trautman, Cole Kmet
Unfortunately for Detroit—and everyone else looking for a tight end in the draft—this year’s class isn’t all that great. Trautman and Kmet are the consensus top two and there’s a significant drop off after that.
Trautman is one of the most athletic of the class, posting a RAS of 8.76, highlighted by fantastic explosion drills like his 6.78 3-cone time. He had a breakout senior year at Dayton, posting 70 catches for 916 yards and 14 touchdowns. But in a spread offense against lower competition, his fit in Detroit isn’t great and his NFL projection is tricky. Thankfully, the Lions got a close-up look at Trautman at the Senior Bowl as part of Matt Patricia’s North squad, so the team should have a better idea on the fit than they would otherwise.
Kmet played against much better competition at Notre Dame and could be closer to the kind of two-way tight end Detroit is looking for. He’s more physical in nature, and while his blocking could certainly use some refinement, his body type and play style suggests he could develop into a long-term blocker/receiver.
Mid-to-late-round options: Thaddeus Moss, Albert Okwuegbunam, Jared Pinkney
LSU’s Thaddeus Moss naturally draws a lot of attention for being the son of Hall of Famer Randy Moss, but Thaddeus is no slouch, either. His college career was stunted by a transfer in 2017 and redshirting in 2018, but his sole year at LSU was a solid one. The younger Moss pulled in 47 catches and 570 yards, setting school records at both. His best attribute, however, may be his willingness to block and get his nose dirty, something Patricia and the rest of the Lions staff will certainly notice.
Okwuegbunam is an intriguing mixture of size and speed. Playing at Missouri, he often aligned to the formation in-line, allowing him to develop a bit as a blocker/receiver combination:
Albert Okwuegbunam is a TE prospect in the 2020 draft class out of Missouri.— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 14, 2020
This player did not register enough metrics to qualify for #RAS.https://t.co/rrk7XIkVdm pic.twitter.com/S9X0YDvyiF
However, Okwuegbunam hasn’t amounted to much more than a red-zone threat as a receiver. He had at least six touchdowns in each of his past three seasons, but never had more than 500 total yards. With all the physical tools but little refinement to his routes and technique, he remains a bit of a project with a high upside.
Pinkney is a guy who entered the 2019 college football season with TE1 aspirations, coming off a fine 2018 at Vanderbilt with 50 catches, 774 yards and seven scores. However, his senior year production was a major disappointment, catching only 20 total passes all season. Pinkney isn’t the most athletic of prospects (4.82 RAS), but he’s got the size, strength and receiving history to be a depth tight end at the next level.