DETROIT - The Detroit Lions selected tight end T.J. Hockenson with the No. 8 overall pick in the NFL draft, a move that's sure to spark mixed feelings among the fan base.
Hockenson is widely regarded as the top tight end in the draft, but the selection came just five years after the disastrous Eric Ebron pick, and many Lions fans still haven't recovered.
But in reality, the 2014 draft has nothing to do with Hockenson.
The Lions passed on potential top-five talent Ed Oliver to pick Hockenson, a move that will certainly be compared to drafting Ebron over star defensive lineman Aaron Donald. But the Lions clearly liked Hockenson and were determined to stick to the plan.
Hockenson is a great fit for the Lions because he can solidify the offense on two fronts: as a receiver and as a blocker. His unique combination of skill as a pass catcher and blocking ability made Hockenson a no-doubt early first-round pick, so it's not as if the Lions reached for a player beyond his value.
Yes, the Lions definitely could have used Oliver, but Hockenson fills a major need.
In 2018, tight end was perhaps the greatest weakness on the Lions' roster. Levine Toilolo led the group with 21 catches for 263 yards, and Michael Roberts and Luke Willson were essentially non-factors.
The importance of the tight end position is on the rise in the NFL, and the Lions are playing catch-up. They signed Jesse James in free agency, but now, with Hockenson, the team's greatest weakness should immediately become a strength.
Hockenson caught 73 passes for 1,080 yards and nine touchdowns over 23 games the last two years. He averaged 14.8 yards per catch and won college football's John Mackey Award for the best tight end in the nation.
The Lions were 24th in the NFL last season in terms of yards per pass attempt, and that's largely due to the lack of production from the tight end position.
With Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones at wide receiver and Kerryon Johnson in the backfield, the Lions' offense had enough weapons to be formidable last season, but James and Hockenson will add another dimension.
Hockenson can also help a pair of offensive tackles who struggled at times in 2018. The Lions invested heavily in Taylor Decker and Rick Wagner, but Hockenson can be extra protection for quarterback Matthew Stafford or a lead blocker for Johnson.
The Lions ranked in the bottom 10 of the NFL last season in both yards and points per game. The defense was 10th in yards allowed and 16th in points allowed.
In free agency, the Lions signed elite pass rusher Trey Flowers and nickel cornerback Justin Coleman to solidify an already serviceable defense.
The Lions absolutely needed to get more explosive on offense, so they went out and took the top offensive weapon in this year's draft.
Hockenson might be a controversial pick, but he's one that makes sense, considering the team's needs.
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