Why T.J. Hockenson should be the next featured Lions player

T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /
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T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions
T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions – Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /

Detroit Lions T.J. Hockenson is one of the few building blocks for the future. We discuss how to make him a major focus of the offense.

We’re going to try this again after writing that the Detroit Lions should feature D’Andre Swift during Week 6 and beyond, which led to a win. “The Lions should now feature T.J. Hockenson“, after all, why draft a tight end with a top-10 pick and then allow him to play third or fourth fiddle in your offense? This week we’ll examine why and how “Hock” should be a focal point of the offense going forward.

There was a lot of hype about many things Detroit Lions prior to the season starting, not the least of which was defensive improvements that have been all sizzle and no steak. Just behind promises of a more forward-thinking defense under a new coordinator, Cory Undlin was a promise of an improved offense that would feature T.J. Hockenson similarly to ways that we’ve seen George Kittle used in San Francisco.

Pictures of Hockenson working out with Kittle and showing an improved physique were passed around like popcorn among Lions fans via social media. Infamously, Lions general manager, Bob Quinn, was said to have tried to bring former All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski to Detroit just a couple of offseasons ago, as well.

With Quinn so set on having a threat at the tight end position, you’d expect that any talented arrival filling that void would be set up for almost immediate stardom.

What we’ve actually seen transpire is similar to the other expectations for 2020, it was fool’s gold to put any stock in them.

If head coach Matt Patricia and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell want to get back into the chase for a playoff spot, which seems 98% impossible, they are going to have to find creative ways to utilize their 2019 first-rounder and treat him like the highest drafted player not named Matthew Stafford. The passing game is ranked just 22nd in the NFL coming into Week 7 and the matchup with the Atlanta Falcons.

T.J. Hockenson is 17th among NFL tight ends in targets through six weeks (25 targets), with the caveat that Detroit has only played five games during that span. That means that he’s been targeted five times per game as an average through the first five contests.

He is tied for 16th in receptions at 17, plus he has 197 yards receiving and three touchdowns to round out his production, all stats are from the Pro Football Reference website unless otherwise noted.

On the surface, being in the Top-25 at a given position sounds pretty good. However, of the players ahead of him few have been selected as high and with the stated intention of bringing a dual-threat player at the position to make the offense go.

That was how things worked in New England; the Patriots used their tight ends in multiple looks and often in multiple numbers to give Tom Brady, or whatever quarterback was starting, big targets. Quinn has tried many Patriot things, including hiring Patricia away from the Patriots but also signing many former Patriots players and multiple coaches.

Why hasn’t that strategy worked? Hockenson has the desired size and athleticism that Quinn has coveted and stated that he wanted. While Hockenson isn’t quite as straight-line fast as Kittle, they do very similar things as former University of Iowa prospects.

Hockenson showed good acceleration for a 251-pound man but finished with a 4.70-second forty-yard-dash, where Kittle ran it in 4.52-seconds. In shorter distances, the comparison is less striking. In all other measures, the two are veritable clones of each other.

In just 4 games, George Kittle has 30 receptions (38 targets), 380 yards, and 2 touchdowns, according to Pro Football Reference. That’s essentially double the production in one less game. To make matters worse, he was selected in the fifth round of the 2017 draft…ugh.