Allen Park — The longer we talk about the NFL draft, the more circular the analysis seems to become. So it's not surprising, with the draft two weeks away, we're coming back to the idea of the Detroit Lions taking a tight end with the No. 8 pick.
In his latest mock draft for ESPN, analyst Todd McShay projects ideal, three-round scenarios for each of the league's 32 franchises. In it, he has the Lions taking Iowa's T.J. Hockenson at No. 8, followed by Louisiana Tech defensive end Jaylon Ferguson in the second round and Iowa State wide receiver Hakeem Butler in the third.
Like many outside observers, McShay acknowledges Detroit's need for another pass rusher. But despite the premium placed on the position, he feels the team can get better value going with Hockenson early, over Michigan's Rashan Gary, Mississippi State's Montez Sweat and Houston interior lineman Ed Oliver.
"Sometimes you have to look at the combination of picks," McShay said during a Tuesday conference call. "What’s the pairing? If I go with a defensive end at eight, then you’re going with the fourth- or fifth-best tight end at 43. And the drop off from Irv Smith, Noah Fant and Hockenson to tight end four and tight end five is so severe and significant, compared to what defensive end number two or three to the fifth or sixth guy."
Other pass-rushing names McShay listed in that second-round mix along with Ferguson were a wide range of stylistic and schematic options, including Boston College's Zach Allen, TCU's L.J. Collier and Old Dominion's OShane Ximenes.
Ferguson, who recorded more sacks than any player in D-1 history during his college career, posted disappointing numbers at his pro day after not being invited to the combine. Still, McShay is confident the 6-foot-5, 271-pounder can be a productive pro.
"If developed properly, Ferguson has a chance to be a really good player," McShay said.
But the analyst was more effusive regarding Hockenson's potential, as McShay and many others have been throughout the pre-draft process.
"I just think T.J. is one of the 10 best players in this draft," McShay said. "And I know (the Lions) haven’t had the greatest success drafting tight ends early with (Brandon) Pettigrew and Eric Ebron, but I don’t know, you don’t often find guys coming out of college who can block in-line or you can flex them out and they’ll as successful blocking as they are running routes and creating after the catch.
"I think he’s one of the more complete football players in this draft. I just don’t think you can go wrong with Hockenson."
Hockenson is the reigning John Mackey award winner as the nation's best tight end after catching 49 passes for 760 yards and six touchdowns last season, while dropping just one pass.
But it would be Hockenson's blocking ability that put him the mix at No. 8. It's a possibility general manager Bob Quinn wouldn't dismiss in February.
"If it’s a player that’s worthy of the eighth overall pick, and he happens to be a tight end, then I’m not against that," Quinn said. "I don’t have any guidelines that I’ve ever developed over my years in scouting that say, ‘You can’t take a player at this position, at that number.’ Like, I don’t think that way. Everything is an individual, kind of basis, individual scenario each year, depending on where you’re drafting and what your needs are."
As for Butler, who rounds out McShay's projected picks for Detroit at No. 88 in the third round, the 6-foot-6 deep threat is unique, not just because of his size, but the way he was utilized by Iowa State, often operating out of the slot.
Butler has some drop issues he'll need to overcome at the next level, but he's proven tto be a mismatch before and after the catch. He tallied 60 catches last season for 1,318 yards and nine touchdowns.