Can the Detroit Lions mimic the Patriots two-tight end success?
The Detroit Lions added two starting-caliber tight ends this offseason. Can both find success similar to what the Patriots featured nearly a decade ago?
The connection between the Detroit Lions and the New England Patriots has been well-publicized. Current Lions’ general manager Bob Quinn came to the Motor City in early 2016 after spending 15 years as a member of the Patriots in various positions. Quinn was the director of pro scouting for New England prior to joining the Lions.
Quinn’s presence soon lured fellow longtime Patriot, Matt Patricia, to Detroit last offseason to become the team’s newest head coach. Patricia had been the defensive coordinator in New England since 2012, having joined the storied franchise eight years earlier in 2004.
The dynamic duo of Quinn and Patricia have brought in numerous ex-Patriots during their two-year stint together in Motown. So much so some fans have started calling the Lions: Patriots Midwest. Names like defensive end Trey Flowers, wide receiver Danny Amendola, cornerback Justin Coleman, running back LeGarrette Blount, quarterback Matt Cassel, and several others have been added to the roster in the past two years to help make the transition smoother.
That transition being installing the Patriot way, of course. A culture change that has been slow going in Detroit. One that resulted in an embarrassing 48-17 Week One loss the the lowly New York Jets last year and helped the Lions to underachieve with a season-ending 6-10 record, finding themselves in the basement of the NFC North division.
But with a new offseason comes renewed hope. And one of the areas Quinn and company focused on improving was at tight end. The trio of Michael Roberts, Luke Willson, Levine Toilolo no longer populate the depth chart. In their place, the Lions signed former Pittsburgh Steeler free agent Jesse James. And with their first-round selection, eighth overall, Detroit drafted Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson.
Both are believed to be starting caliber tight ends. And under new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, the Lions’ brass undoubtedly hope both James and Hockenson can transform the position. The acquisition of these two talented tight ends is oddly similar to when the Patriots came away with two talented tight ends of their own in the 2010 NFL Draft.
New England selected Arizona tight end Rob Gronkowski in the second round (42nd overall) of that year’s draft and Florida tight end Aaron Hernandez in the fourth (113th overall). And over the next three years, head coach Bill Belichick implemented both players into his offense seamlessly, resulting in three straight playoff berths and one Super Bowl appearance.
During their rookie season, the Pats’ new tight end duo was targeted 123 times, caught a combined 87 receptions for 1,109 yards and 16 touchdowns. Hernandez actually edged out Gronkowski in stats that first year together.
The two would post their best combined season in 2011, which also corresponded with their Super Bowl run. Gronkowski would post an incredible 90 catches for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns on 124 targets, While Hernandez would be right behind him with 113 targets for 79 receptions, 910 yards, and seven scores.
The run for Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez only last three years as Hernandez would be convicted of murder and eventually die in prison. As for Gronkowski, the 30-year old retired just this year from the Pats after nine seasons in the NFL. He is a sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Fame candidate.
With the acquisition of two talented starting-caliber tight ends in T.J. Hockenson and Jesse James, the Detroit Lions could be looking to recreate the magic both Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia witnessed during that special three year-run in New England. If so, Lions’ fans could be in-store for an aerial assault unlike anything they’ve seen in franchise history.