NFL+ Free 7-Day Trial! (320X50)

Lions training camp position preview: Tight end – Lions Wire

We kicked off the Detroit Lions training camp preview series with the quarterbacks, a position where there isn’t a lot of grey area. Next up are the tight ends, which is a very different story.
While there is no drama at the top of the TE depth chart, everything after that is up for grabs. Expect an intense battle between several young players hoping to prove they can turn flashes of NFL ability into substantial roles in Detroit in 2022 and (hopefully) beyond.
Poll: What is the Lions’ biggest strength entering the 2022 season?
David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports
Hockenson is back for his fourth season with the Lions. When he’s been healthy, “Hock” has been one of the NFL’s best all-around tight ends. Alas, the 2019 first-rounder is coming off his second season in three years of missing at least four games.
Hockenson looked good athletically in minicamp and was an active participant in this year’s TE University, where he won the (mythical) championship belt in the inaugural edition a year earlier.
When he went down with a hand injury in December, Hockenson led all Lions in receptions, targets, receiving yards, touchdowns and first downs via the pass. That came after a breakout Pro Bowl season in 2020. His blend of size, savvy and grit make Hockenson a very difficult coverage assignment.
The blocking has been inconsistent, limiting his ascent in the TE pantheon. Hockenson also makes some unwise choices as a runner after the catch. Those are the areas of improvement for a player who should contend for another Pro Bowl berth as he plays for his next contract.
Hockenson is alone atop the Lions TE depth chart. After No. 88 is where things get interesting…
Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
Wright enters camp as the No. 2 man on the depth chart. He showed some receiving chops as an undrafted rookie from Notre Dame in 2021, catching 12 passes for 117 yards and two TDs in 10 total games.
Wright offers soft hands and the ability to make catches in traffic. While not a great athlete, he can set up moves nicely and presents a big target. He even joined Hockenson at TE University this year in an effort to grow his game, a welcome development.
Blocking is the big issue for Wright. Head coach Dan Campbell called it out in last year’s training camp and it never improved much. That’s a real problem for Wright, who isn’t a dynamic enough athlete to flex out from the formation and convince defenses to worry about him. Inline TEs need to block.
If Wright improves his blocking technique and tenacity, the No. 2 job should be his without much question. He has the potential. But he’s got to earn it over a few potential usurpers.

The biggest offseason addition to the TE room is James Mitchell. The fifth-round rookie from Virginia Tech offers a nice blend of size, speed and power that would pretty handily elevate him to the No. 2 spot. But first he’ll have to earn it.
That won’t be easy for Mitchell. He is still recovering from a knee injury suffered last September, one that left him unable to participate in OTAs or minicamp. His recovery status remains unknown; Mitchell could very well open training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list.
The inactivity could also add some rust to Mitchell’s game. He played less than two games in 2021 before tearing his ACL. The jump from the pre-conference ACC games to the NFL is already steep, and Mitchell hasn’t gone full-out in almost a year. Probably best to temper early expectations for Mitchell and hope he can be ready for the start of the season in some capacity.
(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Griffin is the most natural “blocking” TE on the roster. The fifth-year vet has made his career as an inline blocker with the New Orleans Saints, where he played under Campbell.
The Lions signing Griffin as a free agent was no coincidence. He fills a role better than anyone else. And Griffin does have some ability to catch the ball–he’s caught all five passes thrown his way in the NFL. From our first look at him in the largely non-contact offseason activities, Griffin carries himself as a kneecap biter eager to prove he can do more. He’ll get every chance to be the designated blocking reserve TE and possible backup to fullback Jason Cabinda too. Don’t forget–Cabinda can also play some TE.
(AP Photo/Bart Young)
Zylstra plays tight end exactly how you would expect a 6-foot-4, 230-pounder who was a wide receiver for nearly all his football life to play it. He’s a receiving specialist. Based on what glimpses we caught of Zylstra in his brief 2021 appearances and in his offseason work, he could be a pretty darn good one too.
Zylstra is a big target with an outstanding catch radius and excellent concentration. His route-running is more advanced due to his time at Minnesota State (and the Vikings) primarily playing WR. His path to making the team is as the flex/move TE in passing game sets.
Special teams will also be a critical aspect of the TE competition, and Zylstra does have some practical experience on coverage and return units that could help him out. He’s much more oversized wideout than traditional TE, and he’s not alone on the Lions roster in that category.
Wm. Glasheen USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
Funchess signed with the Lions earlier this summer, bringing an experienced receiving option into the roster. In his five-year NFL career, most of it with the Carolina Panthers, Funchess racked up more catches, yards and TDs than anyone else playing TE in Detroit has–Hockenson included.
Of course, the Michigan product hasn’t played since 2019 and lasted just one game in a Colts uniform that season. Funchess, like Zylstra, is much more of a too-big wide receiver than a traditional tight end. Heck, he was listed as a wide receiver during his prior career stops in Carolina and Indianapolis.
His experience and coachable nature certainly give Funchess a chance to reboot his career successfully in Detroit. But he’ll need to show he can be at least passable as a blocker and pick up the offense quickly. The 28-year-old could be a pleasant camp surprise or one of the first players cut.
 Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
The Lions have a pair of undrafted rookies hoping to gain enough notice to perhaps stick on the practice squad–either in Detroit or elsewhere. That’s the only realistic chance for Derrick Deese Jr. and Nolan Givan.
Deese has the added problem of being injured. The San Jose State product has yet to be cleared by trainers to practice. Givan played at three different colleges (Ball State, San Diego State, Southeastern Louisiana) and never made much of a dent on the stat sheet.
It’s an uphill battle for both of them, but Deese and Givan have opportunities to make the most of their chances.
Sign up for the Lions Wire newsletter to get our top stories in your inbox every morning
Lions Wire
© Copyright Lions Wire 2022
USA Today Sports
Powered by VIP
Please enter an email address.
Thanks for signing up.
Please check your email for a confirmation.
Something went wrong.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *