Lions’ success at TE presents optimism for 2023, past – Detroit Lions Blog

DETROIT — At 1-6, Detroit Lions basic supervisor Brad Holmes knew he needed to shake issues up forward of the NFL commerce deadline.

So, he made an unpopular transfer to ship Pro Bowl tight finish T.J. Hockenson to their division rivals, the Minnesota Vikings, in change for a 2023 second-round draft choose and a 2024 third-round choose.

Lions coach Dan Campbell considered the commerce as “extra meals on the desk” for the other skill players on offense. And those guys stepped up — especially the tight ends.

The Lions would go with a committee approach at the tight end position instead of just one clear-cut starter, which resulted in the group ending the season with 12 combined touchdowns, tied for the second most among any NFL team, led by Brock Wright (four), Shane Zylstra (four), Hockenson (three) and James Mitchell (one).

Looking ahead to the 2023 season, the Lions (9-8) will look to build on their first winning season since 2017, which means figuring out what they want to do moving forward.

This offseason, the team hired Steve Heiden as the new tight ends coach following his stint in the same role with the Arizona Cardinals from 2019 to ’22. Prior to that, Heiden held various roles with the Cardinals as an assistant special teams/assistant tight ends coach, in addition to serving as the team’s assistant offensive line coach. He joins a number of other former NFL players on Campbell’s staff after playing 11 seasons in the NFL from 1999 to 2009 with the San Diego Chargers and Cleveland Browns.

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What will he have to work with? Here’s a closer look at the tight end group ahead of next season.

How did the place carry out in 2022?

Given the circumstances, the place group carried out to the most effective of its means — on paper, probably even overachieving. Quarterback Jared Goff regularly displayed belief in his tight ends, which was how they set a franchise document for essentially the most mixed touchdowns in a single season from tight ends in Lions historical past (12).

The Lions additionally noticed three totally different tight ends end with a multi-touchdown recreation in 2022, which was the primary time in league historical past {that a} workforce had video games of a minimum of two landing receptions from three totally different tight ends in a season. On the one hand, if it isn’t broke don’t repair it, but it surely’s truthful to surprise if that manufacturing is sustainable going ahead.

“It’s a good group, they work hard, they’re where they’re supposed to be and they do a good job getting themselves open, and I’ve been able to find them,” Goff mentioned of the tight finish depth throughout a Dec. 28 observe.

What do the Lions have coming again?

The Lions might very nicely run it again with the trio of Wright, Zylstra and Mitchell, as they had been all signed to cheap contracts and had been extremely productive, particularly within the purple zone, but it surely appears as if the group wants an improve by way of pure expertise to succeed in the subsequent stage. Both Wright and Zylstra are exclusive-rights free brokers, that means the Lions can signal them to one-year, league-minimum offers this offseason.

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Mitchell, who was drafted within the fifth spherical in 2022, can even enter Year 2 of his rookie deal.

It’ll even be fascinating to see what Heiden brings to the desk on the teaching aspect and what sort of expertise he’ll favor to assist an offense that ranked within the high 5 in factors scored per recreation (25.71).

What ought to we anticipate this offseason?

The Lions maintain two first-round picks — No. 6 (through Los Angeles Rams) and No. 18 — within the upcoming NFL draft, but it surely’s unlikely they’ll use any of their excessive picks on a decent finish, as bettering the protection will possible be the highest precedence. However, they may go in that course later within the draft on Day 2 and even probably usher in one other free agent to improve the place.

The tight finish corps was stable after shedding Hockenson, however the group nonetheless mixed for under 40 receptions as a trio, which should enhance. The Lions aren’t asking for high-volume pass-catchers however need gritty blockers who may help on the sting in each the run and passing recreation. Austin Hooper, Hayden Hurst, Evan Engram and Dalton Schultz are some potential veteran free agent targets whom the Lions might chase this offseason.

“We’re always going to be very strategic and selective with our approach,” Holmes mentioned of the free company plan throughout his finish of the season availability in January. “… Regardless of how many resources you have, how much money you can spend, we’re always are very selective and strategic with how we go about free agency. And that’s upcoming UFAs that are on our team as well as external adds, but it’s always going to be the same approach.”

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