T.J. Hockenson mirrors Jason Witten in one significant way
The Detroit Lions may have found the next Jason Witten when they drafted Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
The Detroit Lions enter 2019 with a clear void at the tight end position. The Lions’ two top starter from last season, Luke Willson and Levine Toilolo, both failed to impress and neither was re-signed this offseason. And former fourth-rounder Michael Roberts continues to flash star potential but is far too inconsistent to this point.
Therefore. the Lions’ brass went about the business of retooling the position this offseason. First, they signed former Pittsburgh Steelers’ tight end Jesse James via free agency. Then they added two more tight ends through the draft. With their first selection, Detroit drafted Iowa’s T.J Hockenson, who is considered to be the top tight end prospect in this class.
Then, with their second to last pick in the seventh round, Detroit selected Georgia’s Isaac Nauta, a player Lions’ tight end coach Chris White believes had the best hands of any tight end in the draft, including Hockenson.
James, Hockenson and Nauta represent a new commitment to the tight end position in the Motor City. But undoubtedly all eyes will be on the eighth overall selection. Rarely does the league see tight ends selected in the top ten. And the expectations surrounding Hockenson are enormous. With former New England Patriot alums like Lions’ general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia making the calls in Motown, they are certainly hoping the rookie tight end can have a Rob Gronkowski-type impact.
But a better player comparison for Hockenson could be Dallas Cowboys’ longtime tight end Jason Witten. A 15-year iron man, Witten is a 11-time Pro Bowler whom many view as one of the most complete tight ends in NFL history.
A likely first ballot Hall of Famer, Witten’s career in Dallas has been defined in three main ways. One, his ability to shine as both a blocker and receiver. Two, his durability as Witten hasn’t missed a single game since 2003 prior to his retirement last year. And finally, his knack for getting open despite age sapping what little speed he had as a pro.
As for Hockenson, he seems to share many of these qualities to Witten. But the most vital characteristic could end up being his ability to get open. Here’s what White told MLive.com about Hockenson’s uncanny ability to gain separation.
"“[Hockenson] wasn’t the fastest tight end at the combine — he ran a pretty decent time — but he has a way of getting open. He’s savvy, that type of football player. It’s the things you can’t really teach … just kind of boxing out in basketball and creating separation just by subtly using his body.”"
At 37-years old, Jason Witten has returned to the Dallas Cowboys as a player opting out of retirement and relinquishing his seat as the color commentator on ESPN’s Monday Night Football. And the Cowboys are actually scheduled to face off against the Detroit Lions in Week 11 at AT&T Stadium. That should give Lions’ fans a real opportunity to compare these two great tight ends at opposite ends of their careers. But the fact is, Detroit would be lucky to land a player like Witten, someone who could finally solidify their tight end position for the next decade or more.