An undrafted free agent who signed shortly after the conclusion of the 2021 NFL Draft, Brock Wright was part of a strong UDFA class for the Detroit Lions in the first year of Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell’s tenure.
Wright was the sixth-ranked tight end in the 2017 recruiting class, but managed to catch just seven passes over his three seasons at Notre Dame. Instead of being used as a pass catcher, Wright found the field as a blocker, even lining up as an H-back and fullback for the Fighting Irish. His ability as a blocker earned him a shot with a Lions roster in the first year of its rebuild, but his hard work in training camp endeared him to the coaching staff and he’s stuck ever since, even being trusted to take over as the team’s starting tight end when they dealt T.J. Hockenson at last year’s trade deadline.
Detroit’s tight end room looks completely different from when Holmes took over as general manager, and Wright—a player of circumstance, to a certain extent—went from an undrafted practice squad player to starter in less than two season’s time. With newcomer Sam LaPorta and the intriguing James Mitchell sure to be fixtures in the Lions offense, how does Wright fit into the Lions’ plans this season?
Let’s take a closer look in the next iteration of our 2023 roster preview series.
Previous roster previews: Aidan Hutchinson, Jameson Williams, Josh Paschal, Kerby Joseph, James Mitchell, Malcolm Rodriguez, James Houston, Chase Lucas, Obinna Eze, Greg Bell, Penei Sewell, Levi Onwuzurike, Alim McNeill, Ifeatu Melifonwu, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Derrick Barnes and Jermar Jefferson.
Expectations heading into 2022
Brock Wright had an opportunity to jump from the practice squad to the active roster in 2021, but after Detroit drafted James Mitchell in the fifth round of the 2022 NFL Draft, Wright suddenly had more competition for a roster spot in 2022. However, the Lions chose to be cautious with Mitchell’s return to football after his ACL injury, and Wright’s spot as TE2 behind T.J. Hockenson was earned with a strong showing at training camp and during the preseason.
“He’s stepping up. He’s made big strides,” said Dan Campbell during last year’s training camp. “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.”
While Mitchell rehabbed and acclimated himself to the Lions playbook, Wright had the TE2 spot locked up as the team looked to provide stability and structure around Jared Goff in Ben Johnson’s first year as the team’s offensive coordinator.
Actual role in 2022
17 games (10 starts): 591 offensive snaps, 170 special teams snaps
Stats: 24 targets, 18 receptions, 4 TDs, 12.0 yards per reception
PFF overall grade: 54.2
- Receiving grade: 63.6 (31st among 52 TEs with minimum 24 targets)
- Pass blocking grade: 56.7 (33rd among 51 TEs with minimum 22 pass block snaps) — (4th-most pass blocking snaps among all NFL TEs (77) in 2022)
- Run blocking grade: 44.2 (73rd among 83 TEs with minimum 91 run blocking snaps)
Wright’s season started as expected, finding quite a bit of playing time as the team’s primary blocking tight end (25.8 offensive snaps per game) and steadily contributing on special teams. Detroit was without superback Jason Cabinda for the first half of 2022, so Wright became the team’s H-back/fullback in his absence. Over the first seven games of the season, Wright had just six targets and six receptions for 88 yards, but things would change in a hurry.
Detroit traded Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson after Week 8—just ahead of the NFL’s trade deadline—and Wright became the team’s starting tight end for the rest of the season. His snap counts on offense increased dramatically (41 snaps per game), and while he wasn’t getting anywhere near the sort of attention Hockenson did as a pass catcher—only 18 targets and 12 catches over his 10 weeks as a starter—Wright did have four touchdown catches, most notably his 51-yard game winner against the New York Jets in Week 15.
Outlook for 2023
While Detroit made the most of their group of tight ends in 2022, it didn’t take long for the Lions to prioritize upgrading the position, using the 34th pick in the 2023 NFL Draft to select tight end Sam LaPorta from Iowa. LaPorta is on track to be the team’s TE1 by the start of the season, Mitchell gained a handful of valuable NFL experience in his rookie season after getting past his ACL rehab, and Wright finds himself in all-too-familiar territory, once again part of the mix in the Lions’ tight end room.
In year’s past, Wright has had to earn his spot on the team’s roster, but he figures to be part of the equation when it comes to Detroit’s offense as a player the team trusts to block in different phases at various positions. Just how big that role will be in 2023 remains to be seen.
Right now, less than a month away from the start of training camp, Wright has the leg up on Mitchell, and it can’t be overstated how Detroit felt comfortable enough to move on from a big-time player like Hockenson and trust Wright with the opportunity to be the team’s TE1 last year. Wright’s ability as a blocker right now is more predicated on determination and willingness as evidenced by some of his aforementioned PFF grades in pass blocking (33rd) and run blocking (73rd)—his seven QB pressures allowed in pass blocking were tied for the fifth-most allowed by a tight end in 2022. But he’s still in just his third NFL season, and his 6-foot-5, 260 pound frame, combined with his athleticism, suggests he has what it takes to stick around and have a role on an NFL roster.
So while it isn’t a given that Mitchell will take snaps away from Wright this season, Detroit is optimistic about Mitchell’s potential as an athletic, Y-type tight end who has the receiving chops, but is still learning how to be a factor in the run game. Depending on how quickly Mitchell can prove himself as a blocker—and Mitchell will have plenty of chances to showcase that ability with multiple joint practices during training camp—Wright will have to hold serve and stake his claim as the dependable option to keep his spot on offense.