Allen Park — When Detroit Lions fans think about the team potentially selecting another tight end in the first round they understandably break out in a cold sweat.
In 2009, the team drafted Brandon Pettigrew at No. 20. He was solid, but never spectacular during his seven-year stint with the franchise. In 2014, the Lions took Eric Ebron at No. 10, the only tight end selected in the top 10 the past dozen years. He too fell well short of expectations.
So despite the team's glaring need at the position, those loyal fans scoff at the idea of Detroit taking Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson with the eighth choice this year. Still, that's exactly what Mel Kiper is projecting them to do in his most recent mock draft.
Why, when no one else is drafting tight ends that early in the draft, and after the Lions have gotten less-than-expected returns the two times they've gone that route in the opening round, should anyone believe the third time is the charm? What makes Hockenson more of a sure bet than Ebron?
"Well, he's a blocker," Kiper said during a Tuesday conference call. "He will block, in-line, and help that running game. He's a complete tight end. He's not a guy you flex out. He's not just a great athlete who will catch the ball. He'll do that, he is a gifted athlete, but he'll also block. He's consistent. He's a quarterback's best friend. That's what he was at Iowa this year."
Listed at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, the redshirt sophomore broke out last season, despite playing alongside Noah Fant, who many considered the best tight end prospect entering the season.
But it was Hockenson who won the John Mackey Award as the nation's best player at the position, catching 49 passes for 760 yards and six touchdowns. He was the first underclassman to earn the honor in nearly two decades.
"I think Hockenson, you just can't look at him as a one-dimensional, he's a multi-dimensional tight end," Kiper said. "He can do everything you want and it would be a great asset for Matthew Stafford to have in that offense.
"He's kind of a throwback, but he has the skills to fit in very well in today's NFL," Kiper said. "I think he's going to be one of those guys who could skyrocket."
In a mock draft a month earlier, Kiper had Hockenson being taken No. 19. As the analyst explained throughout his hour-long call, his altering opinions on prospects are fueled by talks with NFL decision-makers. Consensus opinion becomes clearer as the draft nears. There's also an expectation Hockenson will test well at the combine, further bolstering his stock.