ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — The Detroit Lions ignored their relatively recent history when it came to drafting tight ends and focused on the future.
Detroit addressed perhaps its top priority, selecting Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson with the No. 8 overall pick in the NFL draft Thursday night. The Lions were initially interested in trading their first-round pick to acquire more selections, but decided he was too good to pass up.
As the league shifts to passing more, tight ends are becoming a position where teams want difference-makers.
“It’s become a valued position,” Hockenson said before the draft. “A three-down tight end who can run past defenders when needed and block when needed is special.”
The 6-foot-5, 251-pound Hockenson won the John Mackey Award last year, honoring the college football’s top tight end. Hockenson had 73 receptions for 1,080 yards and nine receiving touchdowns in his career with the Hawkeyes.
Hockenson, who is from Chariton, Iowa, was a second-team All-America and first-team All-Big Ten player last season. He led Iowa with 760 yards receiving and was second on the team with 49 receptions and six touchdowns.
The Lions need to invest in pass-catching options for quarterback Matthew Stafford. Until taking Hockenson, the franchise had drafted only one receiver (Kenny Golladay) and one tight end (Michael Roberts) since the 2014 draft when it selected tight end Eric Ebron No. 10 overall in 2014.
Ebron was released last year, and fans also remember Detroit using a first-round pick on tight end Brandon Pettigrew in 2009. That didn’t go that well, either.
The Lions may look to fill voids at wide receiver, offensive guard and safety during the draft Friday night and Saturday.
Detroit needs all the help it can get after losing seven of its last 10 games under first-year coach Matt Patricia and finishing with double digits in losses for the first time since 2012.
The Lions went into the draft with fewer needs after making many moves in free agency. Detroit signed Trey Flowers and re-signed Romeo Okwara to turn defensive end into potential strength. Wide receiver Danny Amendola, cornerbacks Justin Coleman and Rashaan Melvin, tight end Jesse James, and running back C.J. Anderson were also added to make the depth chart look better for Patricia’s second season.