Well, that didn’t work. A unit that was supposed to be one of considerable depth and versatility simply didn’t perform as expected, and some significant question marks remain moving forward, particularly with the top two members.
Many scoffed at the Lions’ selection of T.J. Hockenson at eighth overall in April’s draft and for good reason; tight end is a notoriously difficult position to grasp for first-year players. His NFL career got off to an exciting and explosive start though, when he caught six balls for 131 yards and a touchdown in a Week 1 tie against the Arizona Cardinals.
However, he registered just 236 yards over his next 11 games before being lost for the year with an ankle injury. Hockenson also suffered a concussion in a Week 4 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. He also dropped a sure touchdown grab in a Week 6 loss against the Green Bay Packers, a game they lost by just one point.
His production was decent for a rookie at his position, but the Lions will be looking for much more next season; some the current top tight ends in the league took major jumps in year two. The Lions would love a similar advancement from Hockenson.
As the top tight end available in a thin free-agent market this past year, Jesse James was brought in to help reshape a moribund unit for Detroit. At 6-7, visions of him as a legitimate red zone threat and powerful blocker didn’t seem far-fetched.
No such luck. James slogged through a bland 2019, failing to catch a touchdown and posting his lowest yardage total since his rookie season. It’s hard to imagine him being any less involved in the offense than he was this year, which is perplexing for someone inked to such a big contract. For now, this looks like another poor free agent signing by general manager Bob Quinn.
Logan Thomas quietly had a solid season for the Lions as their third tight end. Originally thought to be solely a special teams contributor, by season’s end he was regularly receiving more snaps on offense than James. In fact, he wound up eclipsing James in most statistical categories. Not what the Lions had in mind prior to the season.
Ultimately, this was an uninspiring group in 2019 that failed to make many game-making plays. This is particularly disconcerting considering that many of this year’s playoff teams have dominant stars at the position.