For years now, the Detroit Lions have been looking for the perfect complement to T.J. Hockenson in their tight end room. They’ve rolled through Logan Thomas, Jesse James, Darren Fells, and a slew of young players in an effort to both backup Hockenson and find a piece that could be more of an in-line tight end to focus primarily on blocking.
It’s far too early to tell, but the Lions may have finally found their man in Brock Wright.
Wright, signed as an undrafted rookie last year, came out of college after a pretty unheralded career at Notre Dame. He caught just seven passes for 78 yards over three seasons, and was given just average marks as a blocker. So when the Lions signed him last year, it didn’t make many waves. In fact, at this point last year, he seemed like a long shot to make the roster.
Not only did Wright make the roster, but after Fells wanted out, Wright was the primary option to fill in as TE2. Wright’s performance was up and down—as it is for almost every rookie, let alone an undrafted one—but he got 10 games of valuable NFL experience, including five starts.
“I got a great bit of experience last year, and I think that carries over,” Wright said this week. “So now there’s a lot of things that maybe I wasn’t used to seeing, but now I am, and I can play things out and unfold in my head before they happen.”
Wright’s experience and comfortability in this offense have made him the unchallenged backup tight end behind Hockenson right now. And the difference between last year and this year is staggering on the field.
“He’s stepping up. He’s made big strides,” coach Dan Campbell said. “I would say–it’s almost—spring we were actually hoping for a little bit more of a jump than we got. He did a good job, but man, we get him in camp and now the pads come on, and he’s really growing. And he’s really growing and he’s somebody that man, his just—the run blocking is getting better, the pass protection is starting to show up.”
In Friday’s preseason opener, Wright flashed his improved blocking skills against the Atlanta Falcons. He earned PFF’s fifth-best pass blocking grade among tight ends and the 30th run blocking grade (out of 133). A block of his on the opening drive sprung D’Andre Swift for a 9-yard touchdown... even if it wasn’t perfect.
“I had a slice block there, so I was trying to cut him and get him on the ground,” Wright said. “It didn’t work out so well. We call that a plus/minus. Ended up getting a touchdown, so that’s the most important thing.”
Tight ends coach Tanner Engstrand has seen the improvement, too, and believes Wright has the necessary physical qualities to be a long-term player in the NFL.
“If he can continue to get better in that area, I think he’s got the strength and the size to become a really good blocking tight end,” Engstrand said. “As we continue along and proceed through the preseason into some of these games and stuff. He’s getting better every day.”
But don’t sleep on those receiving skills, either. After posting just seven catches in college, Wright hauled in 12 catches for 117 yards and two touchdowns his rookie season. He also pulled in a big 18-yard gain on the second play of Friday’s preseason opener
“As a tight end, you’ve got to be ready to do all of it,” Wright said. “People always say, ‘blocking tight end, receiving tight end and whatnot,’ but to be a true Y, you’ve got to be able to make the plays if the ball comes your way. So that’s just as important as going out there and being able to block.”
Campbell sees that potential, too.
“I swear that guy—it’s like, man, when you need a play in the pass game it just kind of—he’s where he’s supposed to be, he shows up, he makes the play.”