Detroit Lions: Drafting another tight end in the top 10 again?
Iowa’s T.J. Hockenson is shooting up draft boards and has been linked as a possible target for the Detroit Lions. So…are we ready for a tight end do-over?
Over the past month or so, one name who is flying up mock draft boards has been tight end T.J. Hockenson. Equally useful as a blocker and pass catcher, the Mackey Award winner out of Iowa ranks between 15 and 25 on the majority of Big Board prospect rankings.
After receiving positive reviews at the Combine in Indianapolis, Hockenson has cemented himself as a legitimate possibility to be picked in the Top 10 of the Draft in April. Holders of the number eight pick, the Detroit Lions have a major talent gap to fill at the tight end position.
Anyone with a reasonable grasp of recent franchise history can see where I’m headed with this, and is probably shielding their eyes already.
One year after the final episode of the Eric Ebron soap opera in Detroit (followed by the highly successful spin-off series in Indy), there’s a very real chance that the Lions will once again use a Top 10 pick on a tight end. Bob Quinn admitted as much last week, whether or not fans are ready for this type of sequel.
When it comes to potentially drafting Hockenson, Eric Ebron is probably the biggest obstacle for Quinn and his staff to overcome.
As a rule of thumb, NFL teams just don’t really use Top 10 picks on tight ends. It’s only happened six times in the last 40 years. Considering that some of the recent greats at the position have been lightly regarded basketball converts (Antonio Gates-undrafted, Jimmy Graham-3rd round), it’s hard to say that’s not the way to go. The Lions bucked the trend in 2014, raising eyebrows by taking Ebron with the 10th overall pick in 2014.
Ask anyone who bleeds Honolulu Blue whether Eric Ebron is one of the NFL’s six best tight ends of the past 40 years…okay. No tight end has been picked that highly since Ebron, and if Hockenson indeed goes to Detroit this year, he would be the highest tight end drafted since Vernon Davis in 2006. I believe the old axiom goes, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”
Quinn and company have another seven weeks to mull things over. While the GM says that he needs to block out the outside noise (aka the opinions of fans) when considering all options, for this particular franchise, Hockenson would make for a very risky pick. Is Hockenson enough of a sure thing to make up for alienating the fan base on draft night, immediately putting a tremendous amount of scrutiny on his rookie season?
That’s not to say that Hockenson should be ruled out just based on one bad investment (two, depending on how you feel about Brandon Pettigrew‘s career). After all, the best receiver in franchise history came following a string of high profile draft busts at the position.
As with Calvin Johnson in 2007, if this is the direction they want to go, Lions brass needs to be pretty confident that rather than a ‘good’ player, they’re getting one of the very best tight ends of his generation. This risky pick would initially be the object of loud skepticism and scorn from a fan base who would love to be proven wrong, but is still waiting for Quinn and Patricia to prove themselves right.
My Gut Feeling
My hypothesis with this one is that Quinn’s first round decision is going to be highly dependent on how the free agency period goes in March. If the Lions can land a hot commodity like Trey Flowers (or even the Antonio Brown trade that I’ve been lobbying for at this site), confidence in Quinn will be a little higher and taking a risk on the Hockenson pick would feel that much more acceptable.
If not, then one of the many available pass rushers (defensive end is apparently called ‘edge’ now, by the way) like Clelin Ferrell, Montez Sweat, Rashan Gary, or Brian Burns, would make for a safer and much less conspicuous top pick.
After all, it would take a huge rookie year from Hockenson to convince people that we didn’t just draft Eric Ebron for the second time.