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2022 NFL Combine preview: 10 tight ends the Lions should be watching

Who and what to watch at the tight end position during the 2022 NFL Combine.

NCAA Football: Nevada at Colorado State Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The 2022 NFL Combine kicks off on March 1st with the quarterbacks, wide receivers, and tight ends but you’ll have to wait until Thursday, March 3rd for their on-field drills and testing.

This is the latest in a series of articles that will explore the participants at the Combine that the Pride of Detroit staff believes the Detroit Lions should keep a close eye on during positional activities. Previously, we reviewed the quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receiver groups.

Next up: Tight ends.

Team need

The Lions have a clear TE1 in Pro Bowler T. J. Hockenson and a solid FB/H-B option in recently re-signed Jason Cabinda, but beyond that, despite having six (!) other tight ends signed, none of them are guaranteed a spot on the roster. Brock Wright, who was promoted from the practice squad mid-season and closed the year as the starter after Hockenson landed on injured reserve, is an exclusive rights free agent (ERFA) essentially guaranteeing he will be back with Detroit this season. But what is his role, TE2 or TE3?

That leaves the Lions very much in the market for a reserve/complement tight end, and while blocking skills are preferred, they could also use another sure-handed pass catcher at the position.

What to watch for

Because blocking drills for tight ends will be limited to bags, the focus during their drills often tends to be on pass-catching and movement skills. That means, like with the wide receivers, you should be watching for natural hands, acceleration in and out of breaks, body control, and ball tracking.

Now, on to the prospects.

Trey McBride, Colorado State, 6-foot-3, 249

Suggested by John and Hamza

Arguably the top tight end in the class, McBride has a balanced skill set, which is becoming a rare commodity at the position. He has terrific body control and can get in and out of his routes quickly and smoothly. His hands should be on display at the Combine. If the Lions are interested in having two starting level tight ends on their roster, he could be in play at pick No. 34.

Isaiah Likely, Coastal Carolina, 6-foot-4, 241

Suggested by Mike

Likely improved his stock at the Senior Bowl, and the Lions got to witness it first hand, as he was on their coached roster. One of the more athletic tight ends in the class, he should do well in Combine testing and on-field drills. A pure TE-F (pass catcher), Likely will need to work on his blocking skills at the next level, but he can be an impact contributor while those skills develop.

Jeremy Ruckert, Ohio State, 6-foot-5, 250

Suggested by Ryan

Rumored to shine in testing, Ruckert could see his stock rise if he displays the height-weight-speed-strength combination some are forecasting for him. On the field, he is balanced as a player, a solid contributor in the blocking game, and an immediate TE2 with upside. Don’t be surprised if he is one of the big “winners” from this group after the on-field drills conclude.

Jalen Wydermyer, Texas A&M, 6-foot-5, 255

Suggested by Morgan

A three-year starter whose size and athleticism had him in contention for TE1 in this class when the season began, but a season with too many drops and not enough development has caused his stock to drop. At the Combine, he’ll have a chance to show off his skills and agility, and could get someone to bite on his mismatch potential.

Jake Ferguson, Wisconsin, 6-foot-4 12, 244

Suggested by Jeremy

Consistency is a big trait for Ferguson, and his ball skills, route running, and sure hands should be on display at the Combine. He is another TE-F who needs to develop his blocking skills, but like most Big Ten tight ends, his toughness will be appealing to the Lions coaching staff. He could be a plug-and-play TE2 that the Lions could find on Day 3 of the draft.

Charlie Kolar, Iowa State, 6-foot-6, 256

Suggested by Erik

My sleeper tight end pick for the Lions. Kolar’s size-length-speed combination and his sure hands should draw some attention at the Combine. On the field, he is a separator during his routes and understands how to leverage defenders. If he lands in Detroit, he would be an instant TE2 and has a Dallas Goedert/Mark Andrews type of developmental ceiling.

Quick thoughts

  • Greg Dulcich (UCLA, 6-foot-4, 245) is the player I speculated Lions’ general manager Brad Holmes traded for at the Senior Bowl. The former wide receiver should do very well in Indianapolis.
  • Jelani Woods (Virginia, 6-foot-6 34, 259) absolutely tore up the Shrine Bowl practices and game. At his size and athleticism, he is a mismatch nightmare.
  • Daniel Bellinger (San Diego State, 6-foot-4 14, 252) may be the best blocking tight end in this class, despite getting blown up on National TV during a Senior Bowl practice. It’s worth noting, he was recognized by his teammates as the best tight end on the American team—and that roster included Likely and Dulcich.
  • Connor Heyward (Michigan State, 5-foot-11, 239) is a former running back turned H-back and may as well have “I’m exactly the type of player Dan Campbell loves” tattooed on his forehead. Despite re-signing Cabinda, I still think Heyward is very much in play for the Lions.