Detroit Lions: Comparing T.J. Hockenson to elite tight end rookie seasons

After a record-setting debut, first-round rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson posted a forgettable his first season with the Detroit Lions. But is that normal?

Understandably, many fans of the Detroit Lions felt uneasy when the team announced that Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson was their choice with the eighth overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft. After all, those same fans experienced the careers of fellow first-round tight ends in Motown like Eric Ebron and Brandon Pettigrew.

But most reserved judgment until actually seeing Hockenson play, likely holding out hope he’d be different. And they were rewarded with early preseason hype that exploded in a record-setting debut.

In his first professional NFL game, Hockenson would record six receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown in his Week One matchup against the Arizona Cardinals. That was the most receiving yards posted by a tight end in his first game in NFL history. Hockenson was also only the second player in Lions’ history to post over 100 receiving yards in his debut.

After that stellar outing, it seemed that Detroit had finally hit the tight end jackpot. Unfortunately, Hockenson would go on to record just 26 catches for 236 yards and one score in his following 11 games combined for the Lions. His rookie season would end in a whimper, being placed on Injured Reserve due to an ankle injury in early December.

Hockenson would still post the third-highest number of receptions for a rookie tight end in the NFL last season, only behind the Denver Broncos’ Noah Fant (40) and the Minnesota Vikings Irv Smith (36). But is it all that unusual for a tight end to post similar numbers in their first-year? Let’s take a look at the rookie seasons of some of the league’s top tight ends to find out.

Here are the four NFL tight ends who had the most receptions in 2019, plus the touchdown-leader from the position.

  • Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs (97 recs, 1,229 yards, five touchdowns)
  • Darren Waller, Oakland Raiders (90 recs, 1,145 yards, three touchdowns)
  • Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles (88 recs, 916 yards, six touchdowns)
  • George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers (85 recs, 1,053 yards, five touchdowns)
  • Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens (64 recs, 852 yards, 10 touchdowns)

Now, let’s see what each of these elite tight ends posted in their first season in the NFL.

  • Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs (Injured Reserve – Knee Injury – No Stats)
  • Darren Waller, Oakland Raiders (2 recs, 18 yards, six games)
  • Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles (36 recs, 469 yards, four touchdowns, 16 games)
  • George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers (43 recs, 515 yards, two touchdowns, 15 games)
  • Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens (34 recs, 552 yards, three touchdowns, 16 games)

For comparison: T.J. Hockenson (32 recs, 367 yards, two touchdowns, 11 games)

Next: The Detroit Lions top 10 plays of the past decade

Based on the above information, fans of the Detroit Lions should avoid passing judgment against T.J. Hockenson too early after a somewhat disappointing rookie campaign. Clearly, the evidence shows there is a learning curve when it comes to becoming elite in the NFL. And Hockenson needs more time to prove his doubters wrong regardless of the first-round tight ends drafted by Detroit before him.

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