UPDATED: Lions select tight end T.J. Hockenson in first round of NFL draft

T.J. Hockenson is “super excited” to become a Detroit Lion. In turn, the Lions are thrilled to have landed him.

The Iowa tight end was drafted by the Lions in the first round (eighth overall) in the NFL Draft on Thursday night in Nashville.

He had talked with the Lions at the NFL draft combine and throughout the process, but nothing is certain on draft night until the phone rings.

“It was awesome, it was really a dream come true to be in the NFL and to be in such a great program like Detroit,’’ Hockenson said in a conference call to the Detroit media. “Having my family there — my grandfather that’s 92  — just being able to share that moment with all those people. It’s super humbling and I’m super excited for the opportunity I have in front of me.’’

Hockenson, who is 6-5 and 251 pounds, is widely considered the best overall tight end and one of the 10 best overall players in the draft.

Coach Matt Patricia said Hockenson is a guy the Lions had targeted early in the draft process.

“He’s someone who’s going to represent everything we want,’’ Patricia said at the fan draft party. “He’s smart, he’s tough, works hard, gives everything every single play … This is a guy who finishes every single play, he can do the dirty work in the run game, get open in the passing game, put a lot of pressure on the defense. He gives us multiplicity on offense.’’

Patricia loves the way Hockenson finishes his blocks.

“There’s a lot of plays on tape when you’re watching this guy and he’s blocking somebody and all of a sudden you can’t seen him on the tape because he’s got his guy on the sideline, dumping him on the bench,’’ Patricia said. “Just a tenacious guy, a tough guy, a blue-collar hard worker and that’s what we’re all about.”

GM Bob Quinn also was pleased with the pick.

“We felt really, really good about that pick, he’s a guy we targeted early in the process,’’ Quinn said. “Really great player, 3-down, 4-down player that’s going to be a big part of our offense going forward. Really checked every box that we had in terms of the evaluation process from on field to third down to red area to blocking to special teams to culture to intelligence to work ethic. You name it he checked basically every box throughout the process.’’

Since 1997, Hockenson is the 10th tight end drafted from Iowa and the highest a tight end has been drafted across the NFL since Vernon Davis in 2006.

“Coming from the University of Iowa it’s really helped me coming from a pro style offense, being a three-down tight end, being able to hear the call in the huddle and translate it in a split second when you get to the line,’’ Hockenson said. “At the University of Iowa I really wanted to talk to everyone and be able to learn. … I’m going to work hard and do everything I can to learn that playbook and be able to talk to everyone about it.’’

Hockenson fills a need at tight end with not enough production from the position last season. He’ll be another weapon for quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Last season Hockenson led the Hawkeyes in receiving yards (760) and was second in receptions (49) and touchdowns (6). He received the 2018 John Mackey Award as the top tight end in the nation.

“You don’t often find guys coming out of college who can block inline and you can flex them out and they can be as successful blocking as they are running routes and creating after the catch. I think he is one of the more complete football players in this draft and I don’t think you can go wrong with Hockenson,’’ ESPN analyst Todd McShay said in an April conference call.

CBSsports.com’s report on Hockenson said: “Young, dynamic pass-catching option with the athleticism and speed to threaten the seam and make catches well outside his frame. Immense leg churn as a blocker and very accurate finding linebackers in space. Probably needs to add more strength at the next level to control defensive ends at the point of attack, but is arguably the most exciting, new-age tight end to enter the league over the past few drafts.”

Hockenson joins the four other tight ends on the Lions roster — Jesse James, Michael Roberts, Logan Thomas and Jerome Cunningham.

He is the third tight end the Lions have drafted in the first round since they selected Brandon Pettigrew in 2009 (20th overall) and then Eric Ebron in 2014 (10th overall).

The top three picks in the NFL draft were Kyler Murray (Cardinals), Nick Bosa (49ers) and Quinnen Williams (Jets).

Rounds 2-3 will start at 7 p.m. on Friday. The final four rounds of the draft start at noon on Saturday.

 

 

Detroit Lions: Three take-aways from GM Bob Quinn’s pre-draft press conference

He would like to trade down from the 8th overall pick

ALLEN PARK — Is Bob Quinn trying to send out secret messages about his NFL draft plans?

That’s doubtful, but  the Detroit Lions GM has been pretty clear that he wouldn’t mind trading down in the first round.

He reiterated that stance on Thursday during his annual pre-draft press conference. The Lions have the eighth overall pick in the NFL draft — and eight additional picks. The draft starts next Thursday, April 25, with the first round. Second and third rounds will be drafted on April 26, with the final rounds on April 27.

Quinn estimated that he and his staff have evaluated 1,800 prospects in preparation for his fourth draft for the Lions.

Three thoughts to ponder:

1. While he’s willing to trade down, don’t expect him to move up. “There’s a couple players at the top you obviously would love to have, I just don’t think I have enough ammunition to get up there,’’ Quinn said. “I think, like I said previously, I’d rather move back a couple spots if anything. So there’s definitely good players at the very top, there’s good players at 8 too, guys that we’re excited about. Hopefully a couple are there and we can choose from a couple of them.’’

He’s open to most anything. He would trade down into the 20s if that deal made sense and he could still grab a player that he wanted.

“It’s hard to say right now, to be quite frank, some teams in that 13-15 they don’t want to do anything. You get an offer from 21 and it looks really good and you look at the board and saying 8 to 21 is 13 spots — there’s 13 good players I like there,’’ Quinn said. “You do the math and think I could at least get that guy and then evaluate from there.’’

2. Fan sentiment plays no role in his draft decisions. None. This should be obvious, but there are still fans who will groan if he drafts a tight end (or even a wide receiver) in the first round. That’s because they were disappointed in first-round tight ends Eric Ebron (2014) and Brendan Pettigrew (2009).

“In all due respect to the fans out there, I can’t take the fan sentiment to who I draft and who I sign to this team,’’ Quinn said. “I wasn’t the person who drafted Eric so I think it’s two different conversations.’’

3. In the last few weeks, Quinn and his staff have been taking their time and going through special teams rankings from the scouts and coaches. Quinn said some of the players haven’t been on special teams since 2016 which makes it a little more interesting.

“Really the final piece of the puzzle is how much special teams value does this player have. Because ultimately in fourth through seventh (rounds) nd rookie free agents that’s really how guys end up sticking on the team,’’ Quinn said. “They could be a really good receiver but have no special teams value and you look at it the other way — you know if they have really good special teams value you know they’ll be able to get on the bus, go to the game, be on the 46-man roster and work it out there.’’

That’s exactly why a guy like running back Zach Zenner, an undrafted free agent, stuck around and got a chance on offense. Same with several other players on the Lions’ roster in recent years.

Lions feature new look at tight end with roles still being defined

Luke Willson, Levine Toilolo have the most experience

ALLEN PARK — Overall the Lions offense has not changed drastically from 2017, with the exception of tight end.  Three new faces, three new skillsets.

The Lions open the season against the N.Y. Jets on Monday night at Ford Field.

Eric Ebron and his 53 catches and four touchdowns in 2017 are gone to the Colts. Darren Fells, who had 17 catches for 177 yards and three touchdowns, is now a Cleveland Brown.

Meet Luke Willson, Levine Toilolo, Michael Roberts and Hakeem Valles.

Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said this week he’s still plugging those guys into different spots.

“I think we’re still keeping an open mind about maybe who our best guy is to do certain things or best combination of guys to work together to do certain things,’’ Cooter said this week. “So, we’re encouraged with the guys we have in that room. … We have a versatile group of tight ends, so it does sometimes change the play-calling from when you’re sort of sticking one certain guy in one certain role and one certain other guy in another certain role. We have guys who can do multiple things well.’’

Lions tight ends coach Chris White said this week he doesn’t consider any of them his No. 1 guy. Coach Matt Patricia agrees.

“That has really become a multiple position, I would say in the last eight years, where you might have two guys that are really ‘starters’ or ‘No. 1 guys.’ So, I think there are a lot of personnel groups where multiple tight ends are used. Sometimes one tight end is used in certain situations, sometimes another tight end is used in a different situation,’’ Patricia said on Saturday.

He compares the tight end position to linebackers.

“There are inside linebackers, outside linebackers, there are different types of players in those positions that need to be utilized in different situations,’’ Patricia said. “I think all those guys are doing a real good job though, like I said, really through camp competing for different spots and responsibilities and playing time. So, we’ll keep pushing that with that group.”

In 2017, the Lions scored 29 passing touchdowns with seven of them caught by tight ends.

Willson spent the last five seasons with the Seattle Seahawks. In 2017, he finished with 15 catches for 153 yards and four touchdowns playing in all 16 games. Over the five seasons, he averaged 17.8 catches a year.

Toilolo spent the past five seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. Last season he had a dozen catches for 122 yards and a touchdown. He’s No. 2 on the depth chart behind Willson.

Only Roberts returns from last season when he was a rookie who had four catches for 46 yards.

Valles played in one game for the Lions in 2017 and 11 games for the Arizona Cardinals in 2016. He has never caught a pass in the NFL regular season, although was impressive in the preseason games against second and third defenses which earned him a spot on the roster.