© Romain Blanquart, Detroit Free Press

Bob Quinn 'Not Against' Drafting A Tight End With Eighth Overall Pick

T.J. Hockenson has been linked frequently to Detroit.

February 27, 2019 - 3:18 pm
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In the last 10 years, just eight tight ends have been taken in the first round of the NFL Draft. Two of them went to the Lions. And only one of them went in the top 10. You may have heard of him: Eric Ebron. 

With the Lions once again in need of a tight end and Iowa's T.J. Hockenson drawing rave reviews, there's a realistic chance they go back to the well this year with the eighth overall pick. General manager Bob Quinn certainly didn't rule it out at the combine on Wednesday. 

"If there’s a player that’s worthy of the eighth overall pick and he happens to be a tight end, I’m not against that," Quinn said. "It’s kind of a little bit early in the process to say who that player may or may not be. But I don’t have any guidelines that I’ve ever developed over my years in scouting that say you can’t take a player at this position at that number. I don’t think that way.

"Everything is an individual kind of basis, individual scenario each year, depending on where you’re drafting and what your needs are.”

Several notable draft analysts have mocked Hockenson to the Lions, including ESPN's Mel Kiper. He's a force as both a pass-catcher and a blocker, projecting as a three-down starter as a rookie. Rob Gronkowski has been used as a comparison. He'd certainly be an upgrade over Detroit's tight end personnel last season, which was the least productive position group on the team.

Naturally, it's not an idea that's sitting well with the fans. Haunted by memories of Ebron and Brandon Pettigrew, they've made it pretty clear they're not in favor of spending another first-round pick on a tight end. 

Quinn, of course, can't let that impact his decision. 

"In all due respect to our fans, and I have a great respect for them, I can’t really listen to all that stuff," he said. "If I listen to everything that’s out there, I’d be driving myself crazy."

Matt Patricia, who spoke just before Quinn on Wednesday, acknowledged the importance of a dynamic tight end in today's NFL.

"Tight ends are definitely part of the game right now that defensively makes it real hard to try and game plan against," he said. "The guys that can do multiple things are obviously more difficult, or those players that have a certain skill set that you have to defend against one way or the other can kind of put you in some binds.

"We’re going to do the best we can to try to obviously improve that situation for us, whether it’s through free agency or the draft. We’re looking at those guys pretty hard and trying to make sure we get somebody in there that puts as much stress on the defense as possible."

If the Lions don't take Hockenson at No. 8, there will still be plenty of options on the board. It's an especially deep draft for tight ends, a point Quinn reiterated on Wednesday. Fellow Iowa product Noah Fant and Alabama's Irv Smith are two more names to keep an eye on. 

The reason teams tend to shy away from drafting tight ends in the first round, Quinn suggested, is that it's hard to scout them in college from an NFL perspective. In general, a tight end's blocking responsibilities are much heavier in the NFL.

"There’s only certain amount of offenses in college football that I would say are pro-style," he said. "Most of them are spread four-wide or three-wide with a tight end displaced. 

"When you get into evaluating guys, you’re like, 'Wow, this guy is a good receiving tight end, but can he block?' You go through all his film and there's only 60 plays of him with his hand in a three-point stance blocking a defensive end. The sample size of watching collegiate tight ends block is really, except for a couple schools, there’s not much there."

With the Lions having made a commitment to the run game last season, Quinn went on, it's crucial that they have a tight end who can block. Of course, they'd like him to be a threat in the passing game as well. 

Hockenson fits that description, which is why the Lions might go down a familiar path in April -- dark and spooky though it may be.