When it comes to camp battles for the Detroit Lions, the third tight end may not be the sexiest competition, but it certainly is one of the more confounding. The Lions know T.J. Hockenson is going to be their clear No. 1. Darren Fells is, essentially, their 1B. But beyond that is anyone’s guess.
The four tight ends competing for that third spot—and potentially a fourth spot—are all 24 years old or younger, and exactly zero of them have ever played a regular season NFL snap.
- Charlie Taumoepeau, who has one year of NFL experience, which was spent on three different teams
- Alize Mack, a third-year player who has a couple months of practice alongside Dan Campbell in New Orleans, but has only played in a single preseason.
- Brock Wright, an undrafted rookie out of Notre Dame who caught seven passes in college
- Hunter Thedford, a former defensive end turned blocking tight end who had just five catches in college. He did not play football in 2020.
To call that group of players raw is an understatement. It’s entirely possible the Lions will eventually find someone else to fill that tight end spot, but the coaching staff continues to talk this group of guys up.
On Monday, not only did Lions head coach Dan Campbell say he’s come away impressed with this group, but he gave a detailed analysis of each player and where he thinks they are in the camp battle thus far.
First, he spoke about what exactly he wanted in a third tight end. The main criteria seem to be the ability to step in at either of the tight end spots should Hockenson or Fells suffer an injury.
“You need a guy who’s smart enough and versatile enough to handle both duties, both jobs if something happens to one of your guys,” Campbell said.
So what does he think of the guys thus far? Let’s just look at the exact words he said about each player.
“Mack’s doing some good stuff. I already told Mack this morning. I’m like, ‘You’re growing as a tight end. You’ve got to help us on special teams.’ And he is. He’s growing, but I’m like ‘Astronomically, you have to improve. This thing has got to come in a hurry.’ And he knows that. He’s been working at it.
“But (he) brings kind of a skill set to that position that’s unique. He can separate a little bit. That’s encouraging.”
“Wright’s just kind of, he’s a young buck. He’s learning, he’s growing, but he’s smart and he’s like a sponge. He’s taking it all in. Look, he’s putting in the work.”
“Charlie, who’s maybe the farthest away, yet he’s the rawest, too. He really hasn’t played, he’s young, but man, he’s a pretty good athlete. He’s a pretty good athlete. He’s crafty and he’s tough. I’ll be honest with you, we didn’t quite know about that. Is this kid going to be tough enough to do some of those things that we’re going to ask our tight ends to do? And when he’s been out there, it’s been encouraging. He’ll mix it up. He just needs reps and reps and reps.”
So to recap: Mack has good separation, but needs a lot of work on special teams. Wright is smart and taking in a lot. Taumoepeau is the furthest away, but he’s both a good athlete and has the gritty mentality Campbell is seeking. It sounds like Taumoepeau might be the closest match to what the Lions are looking for, but he’s incredibly raw at this point due to little experience.
Keen readers may notice that Campbell didn’t say anything about Hunter Thedford. That was likely an oversight, but it can’t be good for the 6-foot-6 tight end.