The Detroit Lions need more production from the tight end position

(Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
(Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images) /

The Detroit Lions need more production from the tight end position entering the 2020 NFL season.

This is in no way, shape, or form a knock on T.J. Hockenson, who turned in an impressive rookie campaign during the 2019 season.  I’ve already expressed my displeasure surrounding Jesse James, who was a significant free-agent offseason acquisition last offseason for the Detroit Lions.

Hockenson played exceptionally well as Detroit’s number one tight end before trying to leap a defender and landing squarely on his head.  It’s something these athletes need to stop trying, it ends well once and a while, but most of the time, it ends with a head or neck injury.

A leaping tight end is a welcomed sight for a defender in the secondary.  A tight end, in most cases, is enormously bigger and stronger than a cornerback and most safeties throughout the league.  These players in the secondary love to have an opportunity to cut down a player of that stature air-borne rather than having to tackle a tight end putting their head down and trying to run them over.

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That leap didn’t end Hockenson’s season, but it very well could have; he was shut down after suffering a gruesome ankle injury that took place against the Chicago Bears after making a reception late in the football game during their week 13 matchup.

Most of Hockenson’s production came right out of the gate in week one vs. the Arizona Cardinals, where he made six receptions totaling 131 yards and one touchdown. Hockenson finished his rookie season with 32 catches, which ranked 30th among all tight ends and 367 yards, which were 25th best.

Hockenson was targeted 56 times in the 12 games he played in 2019.  The Lions made sure to make him a focal point of the offense right from the get-go.  Expect big things from Hockenson in year two.  It’s a lot for a rookie to enter the league, but for a tight end, who is expected to be a three-down player has pass-catching responsibilities along with learning the blocking scheme.

Hockenson was a stellar blocking tight end coming out of Iowa.  Iowa has become a tight end factory in recent years producing NFL-ready tight ends headlined by the 49ers, George Kittle.

According to Pro Football Focus, Hockenson produced a run-blocking grade of 60.8 but an awful pass-blocking mark of 35.2 out of 100 in his rookie season.  We know the hands and athleticism are there, but the blocking drastically needs to improve heading into the 2020 season.

When it comes to James, everything needs improvement entering his second year with the Detroit Lions.

James signed a lucrative four-year, $22.6-million deal before the start of the 2019 season.  His dead cap value remains massive in 2020 at $8.2-million, making him untouchable when it comes to even considering moving on from him already.  James does have a fifth-year option built into his deal that expires five days after the conclusion of the 2022 Super Bowl.

When the Lions signed James, he was expected to play a significant role within the offense even if the majority of his work came in the redzone.  The 6-foot-7 tight end presents Matthew Stafford with a large target as the field shrinks down by the endzone.  Things didn’t go as planned. James failed to record a single touchdown during his first year in Detroit.

James was only targeted 25 times last season and reeled in a mere 16 balls totaling 142 yards.  So, when you consider that production, you are hoping James made a massive positive impact in the blocking game, right?

I hate to be the barrier of bad news, but James, known as an excellent blocker during his Pittsburgh Steelers days, was simply atrocious in 2019 in that category. James produced an overall run-blocking grade of 54.6 to go with a grade of 48.3 as a pass-blocker.  To compare, his final year in Pittsburgh just a year prior, James produced a pass-blocking grade of 75.8 along with a run-blocking grade of 64.0.

The Detroit Lions third-string tight end, Logan Thomas, who is now a member of the Washington Redskins, had been targeted 27 times last year and made 16 catches totaling 173 yards and a touchdown.

Next. Lions need to sign quarterback Colin Kaepernick. dark

Not only do the Detroit Lions need more in the passing game from their top two tight ends, both need to be better blockers, and I feel they both have the potential to excel in 2020.