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Monday open thread: Should the Detroit Lions draft a tight end in the first round?

The Detroit Lions and first round tight ends have a somewhat controversial history. With tight end a need entering the 2023 NFL Draft, should the Lions spend a first round pick on a tight end?

NFL Draft Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

A first round tight end?! Have the Detroit Lions not learned from history?!

The mere notion of drafting a tight end in the first round will undoubtedly be met with resistance from many Lions fans, and for good reason. In recent memory, the Lions have drafted three tight ends in the first round to mixed results.

Back in 2009, Brandon Pettigrew was the 20th-overall pick, but after some early career promise, he never amounted to more than a tertiary option. Pettigrew’s final years in Detroit (and the league) failed to yield even a single 100-yard campaign, largely due to injuries. Pettigrew was a complementary piece at best, and that’s not great value for a first-round pick.

In 2014, the Lions would pick Eric Ebron with the 10th selection. This pick would go down in infamy in the Lions fandom. Ebron was marred by inconsistency and drops, failing to develop into the player once worthy of a top ten pick. Worse yet, the players chosen after him wound up having far more successful NFL careers. Taylor Lewan (11th overall) was a Pro Bowl-caliber tackle for many seasons before injuries began plaguing him. Odell Beckham Jr. (12th overall) was a top-tier receiver in his early years with the New York Giants. Aaron Donald (13th overall) has entrenched himself as one of the best players in NFL history. Ebron’s resume, a lone Pro Bowl season after departing Detroit, pales in comparison.

The wound of the Ebron selection had hardly healed when Detroit selected T.J. Hockenson with the eighth overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft. While Hockenson has been one of the better tight ends in the league, that speaks more to the lack of tight end talent than Hockenson’s prowess. Hockenson was rarely the game-changing talent the Lions needed, often drawing ire for his post-catch tumbles. With a contract looming, the Lions opted to trade Hockenson to the division-rival Minnesota Vikings in a swap of draft picks. A decent player he may be, but he will forever be viewed as a wasted pick in Detroit.

With that dubious history of first round tight ends, why should Detroit even consider such a move?

For one, previous failures aren’t always indicative of future ones. While cornerback Jeff Okudah failed as the third overall pick in Detroit, that shouldn’t discount the talent of future cornerbacks. The Lions went through Charles Rogers, Roy Williams, and Mike Williams before landing Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson. A similar logic should apply to tight ends: if the value is there, go for it.

Value, of course, is the key question. With no Kyle Pitts in this class, the 2023 draft class has no consensus at tight end. Between Dalton Kincaid, Sam LaPorta, Michael Mayer, Luke Musgrave, and Darnell Washington, there are multiple first round candidates. Yet we could just as easily see no tight ends selected on day one.

After trading away Hockenson, the Lions have an opening for TE1, but should the Lions address it in the first round?

Today’s Question of the Day is:

Should the Detroit Lions draft a tight end in the first round?

My answer: I think they should, but with a very specific caveat: it has to be Darnell Washington. I’m not as sold on the remaining tight end prospects, so I wouldn’t be on board with spending a first-round pick on them.

The Lions own two first round picks in the 2023 NFL Draft (as of this writing): the sixth overall pick and the 18th overall pick. Taking a tight end at six is far too rich for my liking, but there’s a reasonable debate for a tight end at 18.

While the Lions have a decent platoon with Brock Wright, James Mitchell, and Shane Zylstra, none of them are matchup nightmares at this point. Wright has developed nicely as a blocker with occasional flashes as a receiver. Mitchell is a receiving-first tight end with minimal experience due to a college injury. Zylstra has proven to be a red zone weapon, but little else.

Washington could fit all of those roles in one. At 6-foot-6 and 264 pounds, Washington has a frame like an offensive lineman, and he blocks like one—a plus for head coach Dan Campbell. That size should also translate nicely into the red zone, with the ability to outmuscle most corners, safeties, and linebackers. Yet Washington is not just a big body, for he has an elite athletic profile to match:

Washington has the potential to be a true mismatch, and that becomes very enticing at pick 18. That being said, what happens at pick six is just as important. If the Lions pass on a cornerback early, choosing one with the 18th selection is a strong possibility given their lack of corners under contract beyond 2024. That selection would also be a prime spot for an offensive lineman or a defensive lineman. Washington will be high on my wishlist at 18 (if he makes it), but not necessarily atop it. In a perfect world, the Lions would pick Washington somewhere in the 20s after a trade up or trade down, but predicting trades is easier said than done.

The selection of a tight end won’t appease everyone, but I have a lot of faith in general manager Brad Holmes to make good value picks. The Lions have exceeded expectations due to Holmes and company’s drafting skills, and it has put them in a position to spend a premium pick on a tight end.

Your turn.


Should the Detroit Lions draft a tight end in the first round?

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