With starting tight T.J. Hockenson (knee) designated as questionable to play against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 5, the Detroit Lions made a roster elevation on Saturday, promoting tight end Shane Zylstra to the active roster.
Hockenson missed practice on Wednesday but returned to limited practices on Thursday and Friday, and even spoke to the media, which is typically a strong indicator that he is likely to play on Sunday.
“We’ll see where it (knee) is on Sunday and just go from there,” Hockenson said. “It is what it is. You never play in this game 100 percent, so it’s one of those things.”
With Hockenson’s knee likely needing to be medically cleared before Sunday’s game, and Darren Fells the only other tight end on the active roster, the Lions appear to be leaning on Zylstra as insurance.
Zylstra—the younger brother of Carolina Panthers TE Brandon Zylstra—played his college football at Minnesota State, where he was a record-setting wide receiver. He went undrafted in 2020 and like most UDFAs during the peak COVID-19 season, he failed to latch on to any NFL team. In 2021, he got a tryout with the Vikings—ironically the Lions opponent this week—as a converted tight end, and earned a training camp contract. He was released at cutdowns, but instead of signing onto the Vikings practice squad, he opted for Detroit.
At 6-foot-5, 237 pounds (up from 215 during his college days), Zylstra is primarily a TE-F and if Hockenson is unable to play he would likely take over his pass-catching duties in the slot. Because he was not with the Lions during training camp, we haven’t seen Zylstra blocking abilities, but the fact that he converted to tight end just this past offseason, it’s fair to think that the Lions would lean on Fells and FB Jason Cabinda more in blocking situations.