Detroit Lions nearing tight end touchdown record after trading T.J. Hockenson

Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports /

Despite trading away T.J. Hockenson at the deadline, the Detroit Lions are on the verge of setting the franchise record for touchdowns by tight ends.

When they traded him to the Minnesota Vikings at the deadline, the Detroit Lions said they could be better off without T.J. Hockenson in the long and short-term. Based on pure talent level that was hard to believe, but then they started ripping off wins.

In Week 16 against the Carolina Panthers, Shane Zylstra was a bright spot on an otherwise bad day for the Lions with three touchdown catches. The No. 2?, No. 3? tight end for Detroit is now second on the team with four touchdown receptions this season. One third of his targets and 40 percent of his receptions have resulted in scores.

Before his trade departure, Hockenson had a two-touchdown game against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 4 and he had three touchdowns in seven games as a Lion this season. Zylstra and rookie James Mitchell each caught one of Jared Goff’s two touchdown passes in a Week 9 win over the Green Bay Packers. Brock Wright has two touchdown catches, highlighted by the game-winner against the New York Jets in Week 16.

Lions tight ends have scored seven times in the last eight games, all after Hockenson’s departure.

Detroit Lions on verge of setting franchise tight end touchdown record

Hockenson, Zylstra, Wright and Mitchell have combined for 10 touchdown catches this season. The franchise record for touchdowns by tight ends in a single season came in 2011, when Brandon Pettigrew (five) and Tony Scheffler (six) combined for 11.

Via Justin Rogers of The Detroit News, tight ends coach Tanner Engstrand talked about his group on Wednesday.

"I’m really proud of that group and the way they’ve bonded as a collective unit and really trying to help the team win as much as we possibly can,” position coach Tanner Engstrand said. “Shoot, I think there’s a stat there’s been 10 touchdowns within the tight end group. I think the Lions’ record is 11, so who knows, maybe we’ll have to dial up something else here in the red zone the next couple weeks and see if we can’t get to 12.”"

The Chicago Bears defense is broadly not very good. But they have not been very generous to tight ends this season, allowing the fewest catches to the position (51, 3.4 per game).

But the Lions tight ends haven’t needed a lot of catches or targets to find the end zone lately. So a “tough matchup” won’t necessarily stop someone in the group from scoring on Sunday.

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