Lions T.J. Hockenson primed to emerge as NFL’s top tight end

Detroit Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson (Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports)
Detroit Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson (Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Detroit Lions took some flak during the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. That after investing in yet another tight end high in the annual collegiate selection event. This time with the eighth overall pick.

The Lions have a rocky history of drafting first-round tight ends that didn’t live up to their draft hype. Most notably, Eric Erbon in 2014, who was the 10th overall selection and underwhelmed during his time in the Motor City.

So when the Lions made Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson their first-round selection two years ago, there was a reason for skepticism embedded deep within the fanbase. There was also a glimmer of hope that this time would be different.

Entering his third season in Motown and coming off his first Pro Bowl nomination, Hockenson does appear to be different. As a rookie, he exploded onto the scene by posting an NFL record six receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown in his debut.

Unfortunately, the rest of Hockenson’s rookie season paled in comparison to the promise of his first NFL game. He ended year one with 32 catches for 367 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games after landing on Injured Reserve in Week 13 with an ankle injury.

Hockenson displayed much more consistency in his second season and became a reliable security blanket for former quarterback Matthew Stafford. Targeted a whopping 101 times in 2020, Hockenson racked up 67 receptions for 723 yards and six touchdowns. He also received the aforementioned Pro Bowl invitation for his efforts.

Yet, there are those that think Hockenson has yet to hit his ceiling. Here’s what Analyst Bucky Brooks wrote recently on the league’s official website about the soon-to-be 24-year old as a potential next-level performer in 2021.

"“Given [Dan] Campbell’s history as an NFL tight end and [Anthony] Lynn’s experience working with a star tight end in Los Angeles (Hunter Henry), the Lions could unlock Hockenson’s potential as a dominant force in the passing game this season. Part of the plan could include more seam routes, crossers and deep-overs for Hockenson, as the playbook features more bootlegs and play-action passes to complement a zone-based rushing attack.”"

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With the Detroit Lions expected to enter the 2021 NFL regular season with one of the weakest wide receiver corps in the NFL, T.J. Hockenson figures to be new quarterback Jared Goff’s favorite target this year. And that fact could elevate the third-year tight end in the eyes of many as the single best player at his position in the entire NFL.