Detroit Lions 2020 NFL Combine preview: Tight ends

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

This is the eighth and final installment of our multi-part series previewing the NFL Scouting Combine. The event will be broadcast over four days on the NFL Network, Thursday, Feb. 27 through Sunday, March 1. Today, we'll look at the tight ends.

Lions pre-free agency needs

The Lions aggressively addressed their needs at the tight end position last offseason, overhauling the room with high-cost assets. First, the team signed free agent Jesse James to a lucrative four-year deal, then followed that up by making T.J. Hockenson the No. 8 pick in the draft. To round out the group, the team also signed Logan Thomas and drafted Issac Nauta. 

Unfortunately, the results didn't match the investment. James flopped, providing just 16 receptions and below-average blocking, while Hockenson was largely a non-factor between his electrifying debut (six catches, 131 yards and a touchdown) and a season-ending ankle injury suffered in Week 13. 

James' contract will keep him in Detroit for at least one more season, and Hockenson is the franchise's future at the position. That doesn't mean there's not room to upgrade, but it's pretty low on the priority list. 

Metrics to monitor

40-yard dash, 3-cone drill, vertical and broad jumps and bench press

Did we list all the drills? It feels like we might have listed all the drills. That's probably because tight ends can have such versatile roles within an offense. From a pass-catching standpoint, speed and agility is what creates mismatches. The jumps and bench press establish a prospects strength and explosion, critical to being a successful blocker. 

Top prospects

Cole Kmet

► Cole Kmet, Notre Dame

Kmet's production exploded in 2019. After 17 receptions his first two seasons with the Irish, he snagged 43 balls for 515 yards and six scores in 10 games last season. His blocking, like it is for many college tight ends, will need plenty of polish, but he has the frame to be successful in this area. 

► Hunter Bryant, Washington

Listed at 6-foot-2 239 pounds, he's probably never going to be a consistent in-line option. But as a flex tight end, operating out of the slot, he can be an explosive contributor in the passing game. He had 55 receptions in 2019 and averaged an impressive 16.4 yards per catch during his college career. 

► Bryce Hopkins, Purdue

Another productive pass-catcher, Hopkins doesn't project to anything more than an average blocker. That won't matter if he can produce the way he did in college, with 130 career catches, including 16 trips to the end zone. 

► Adam Trautman, Dayton

A highly productive, small-program standout, Trautman had 70 grabs with 14 touchdowns as a senior, polishing off an impressive college career. He then went to the Senior Bowl and rubber-stamped his credentials, while flashing better than anticipated blocking ability. If he tests well in Indianapolis, he'll merit serious Day 2 consideration.   

Sleepers to watch

Devin Asiasi

► Devin Asiasi, UCLA

Asiasi was at the University of Michigan for a minute, catching two passes in two games as a freshman before transferring  in an amicable breakup to be closer to home. At UCLA, he developed into a well-rounded tight end prospect, catching 44 passes for 641 yards last season, while showing some promise as a blocker. 

► Thaddeus Moss, LSU

The son of Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss, Thaddeus isn't the same type of freakish athlete as his father, but he offers a desirable skill set for NFL teams that want a capable dual-threat at the position. His blocking is more advanced than most prospects coming out of college.


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