Detroit Lions: T.J. Hockenson poised to become top TE in year two

Second-year tight end, T.J. Hockenson is poised to have a stellar season with the Detroit Lions in 2020.

It wasn’t long into his rookie season before the top-ten pick made an impact on the field for the Detroit Lions.  In fact, T.J. Hockenson flashed his potential right away in week one against the Arizona Cardinals, producing his best offensive game of the season.

When the Detroit Lions opted to choose a tight end with the eighth overall pick in the 2019 draft, it left an unfair feeling in the pit of many Lions fans’ stomach as they became regularly reminded of Eric Ebron.

The majority of Hockenson’s offensive production came in that week one matchup with Arizona as the rookie burst onto the scene recording 131 yards on six catches, also accounting for one receiving touchdown.  Quarterback Matthew Stafford targeted his future stud tight end nine times in week one.

Those nine targets would be the highest amount in any game until the 11 he saw in his final game of the season coming in week 13 against Chicago. Despite being targeted a season-high 11 times, Hockenson only accounted for 18 receiving yards on six grabs.

When you look at Hockenson’s rookie numbers overall, they were very respectable.  He made 32 catches on 56 targets totaling 367 yards and two touchdowns.  Taking away that stellar week one numbers, Hockenson produced just 236 receiving yards and a score over 11 total games.  That’s only averaging a mere 21 yards receiving per game.

Head coach Matt Patricia had some encouraging comments about his young tight end via Mlive.com;

“He loves the game of football. He’s a simple guy, just wants to go out and play ball and block and catch and you know, be a tight end,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said of Hockenson earlier this week. “Those guys are a little bit different anyways. I think you can hopefully feel that from him, his excitement from that today. I think knowing T.J., last year and kind of where he was in the draft and all that, there’s a lot of pressure.

“It’s a lot of pressure for a first-year guy, and certainly — you know, come out the gates with a great game and then just a little bit, up and down, the injuries and all the rest of it. I think for him he just feels like, ‘OK, you know what, I’m settled in. It’s the second year. Let me see if I can just try to get better. Let me see if I can improve and let’s just go have some fun. So, it’s good to see that. You can really tell on his face. Certainly, you know, his hair looks good. So, he’s ready to roll.”

I understand we can’t expect Hockenson to amass 100-yards receiving per game moving forward, but the Detroit Lions should expect steady production somewhere in between that week one result and the rest of the year moving forward.

Like many top draft prospects, Hockenson had been highly touted, he’d even been labeled as the next Rob Gronkowski due to his excellent blocking abilities to go with his athletic down-field pass-catching skills.

The Iowa Hawkeyes have recently been considered a tight end factory after producing George Kittle, one of the leagues’ best along with Noah Fant and Hockenson.  It’s hard to assume the latter two will become Kittle-Esque, but he’s shown the potential to become one of the leagues’ top ten at his position.

Hockenson struggled in the blocking game last season but started to gain momentum before his season-ending injury.  According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Hockenson earned himself an overall ranking of 60.5.  His blocking marks though, leave us expecting more; he produced a 60.8 grade as a run blocker, but only a 35.2 grade as a pass-protector.

Even considering that measly 35.2 grade, there is a bright-side of things.  In his final game of the season against the Bears, Hockenson produced a solid 69.4 pass-blocking grade.  Throughout his final three games, Hockenson averaged a respectable 69.6 grade as a pass-blocker.

I’m not too concerned with the teams’ top tight end’s production as a pass-protector as he will be out in a pattern more times than not, BUT it’s nice to see some success when he’s asked to stay in to block.

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If Hockenson can continue this positive trend as a blocker entering 2020 as he did to finish 2019 and produce as a pass-catcher as he proved he could, he will be a tremendous weapon for Stafford and Detroit this season in both the run and passing game.