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Detroit Lions 2022 draft preview: Deep tight end class could benefit Lions

A pretty deep class at tight end means the Detroit Lions could find a capable TE2 well into Day 3 of the 2022 NFL Draft.

UCLA v Washington Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions have a roster filled with eight tight ends currently, but that doesn’t accurately describe the talent of the room.

Last year, the Lions tried a few things to improve the depth of the position, and they all fell apart. First, Josh Hill retired just a couple months after signing with the Lions as a free agent. Then veteran tight end Darren Fells requested a release two months into the season.

As a result, the Lions had to test a bunch of young options at tight end, and for the most part, none separated themselves as clear TE2 options behind T.J. Hockenson going forward. A lot of those projects remain on the roster, but the Lions would be wise to consider a player with more potential upside in this year’s draft class.

So let’s take a closer look in Part 4 of our 2022 Detroit Lions Draft preview.

Previously: Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers

Under contract: T.J. Hockenson (signed through 2022*), Jason Cabinda (2023), Brock Wright (2022), Garrett Griffin (2022), Hunter Bryant (2022), Shane Zylstra (2022), Jared Pinkney (2022), Matt Sokol (2022)

*Hockenson does have a fifth-year option to extend him through 2023. The Lions have not exercised it, but are expected to.

Short term need: 5/10
Long-term need: 8/10

The Lions have a lot of names at the tight end position that should create good offseason competition, but none of them have proven capable of taking on the full-time TE2 role and none are anywhere near capable enough to take over Hockenson’s role should he get injured.

Brock Wright is likely the closest thing the Lions have, and the coaching staff seems to like him relatively well. At just 23 years old, there’s a good chance he hasn’t hit his developmental ceiling yet, but the Lions also chose to bring in former Saints tight end Garrett Griffin—someone who Dan Campbell is more than familiar with—indicating that job is still very much up for grabs. The Lions could likely get away with not addressing that TE2 need this year, but the future looks bleak at this position.

Not a single backup—unless you include “superback” Jason Cabinda—is signed beyond this year, and there are even questions about Hockenson’s long-term viability here. Though general manager Brad Holmes said they’ve begun internal discussions about a potential extension, Hockenson’s inability to stay healthy should be a serious concern and could be a hurdle if the young tight end wants to be among the highest-paid tight ends in the league.

In other words, tight end should be considered a pretty serious long-term need, especially with how often the Lions like to employ two tight end sets.

Day 1/Day 2 options: Colorado State’s Trey McBride, UCLA’s Greg Dulcich, Ohio State’s Jeremy Ruckert, Washington Cade Otton

McBride is the consensus top tight end prospect, and it would probably cost the Lions’ No. 34 or, if they’re lucky, No. 66 to grab him. That may be a little too high given Detroit’s other more-pressing needs, but he’s also potentially worth it. He’s a football dude who compiled 1,121 yards receiving and fights his butt off as a blocker. He’s not as athletically inclined as Hockenson, but he’s a well-rounded player that Campbell will love.

You may remember Dulcich as our own Erik Schlitt’s best guess at the player the Lions traded for in the Senior Bowl roster selection. Here’s what Erik had to say about him then:

Dulcich is a converted wide receiver who has only been playing tight end for two seasons, has a very high ceiling, and could be considered a sleeper.

Dulcich is still very much a work in progress as a blocker, and that may make him a tough fit in the TE2 role immediately, but it’s certainly possible the Lions found some potential there when they had their hands on him in Mobile.

Ruckert was at the Senior Bowl too, but for the Jets. At 6-foot-5, 252 pounds, he’s a blocker both mentally and physically, even if his form could use some tweaking. But he also shows tremendous receiving upside, with big, reliable hands.

Built almost exactly like Ruckert, Otton is a little more polished as a blocker, but doesn’t have the pass-catching upside of Ruckert due to just average athleticism. Still, his route running is better than you’d expect for someone with average movement.

Mid/late-round options: Coastal Carolina’s Isaiah Likely, San Diego State’s Daniel Bellinger, Wisconsin’s Jake Ferguson, Texas A&M’s Jalen Wydermyer

Likely is yet another tight end coached by the Lions at the Senior Bowl. Despite a disappointing performance at the NFL Combine, Likely shows some functional athleticism on tape. After tallying 912 yards and a whopping 12 touchdowns last year, he was named second-team All American. More in the mold of an F tight end (receiving), the Lions would try to increase his blocking skills, which remain a work in progress.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Bellinger was coached by the Lions at the Senior Bowl. Even more, though, Bellinger won the top tight end award of the week down in Mobile, as voted on by his teammates. He’s the opposite of Likely, in that his blocking skills are already well-developed and he’s got limited upside as a receiver. But he was a team captain and special teamer, so he’ll bring the necessary grit that Campbell will covet.

Ferguson is a slightly frustrating prospect because you see flashes of him being a well-balanced, functional option at any role as a tight end, but it doesn’t show up quite often enough. He’s a fixer-upper, and given that he’s viewed as a strong worker and willing blocker, it’s very possible he’s got some untapped potential from his days as a Badger.

Wydermyer didn’t run at the NFL Combine, and after his 5.01 at his pro day, it’s clear why. But it’s hard to shake the idea that Campbell may have extra intrigue in a tight end from his Alma Mater. Wydermyer posted an impressive 16 touchdowns in three years as an Aggie, and showed he was at least capable as both a blocker and receiver. The low athletic scores could drop him far in the draft, and the Lions would get good value for him at 181 or 217 in the sixth round.