It’s no secret that the Detroit Lions wide receiver corps is thin when it comes to star power. It’s also not going to set fear into the hearts of any defenders right out of the gate. So who is expected to carry the load when it comes to the Motown passing game? That responsibility sits squarely on the shoulders of tight end T.J. Hockenson.
The biggest question is, can Hockenson handle it? The worst part for the Lions right now is that the answer doesn’t matter. He’s probably the most proven pass-catcher on the roster and the most feared by far.
There have been past examples of a lackluster receiving corps held up by the tight end position and still having successful offenses. If the Lions expect to win a few games this season, they’ll have to replicate that model and Hockenson will need to be the key component.
Recently on the Detroit Lions’ website, Tim Twentyman highlighted Hockenson as a player under 25 years old to watch this season, saying the following:
"“Hockenson had a breakout second season in 2020, earning his first Pro Bowl nod after catching 67 passes for 723 yards and six touchdowns. Hockenson and quarterback Jared Goff have built a really nice rapport this offseason, and Hockenson is hungry to join the NFL’s elite at the position.”"
Hockenson will need to replicate those numbers and then some to help out this Lions offense. The fact that he’s been working with Lions quarterback Jared Goff is a huge benefit. But to make things even easier on them both, another wide receiver needs to step up.
Now, this receiver doesn’t need to have a massive performance every game. Making one or two deep catches in the first couple of games of the season should be enough to open up the field for Hockenson. The threat of a big play just needs to be established by putting a couple on tape right out of the gates.
Obviously, this would help the running game and running back D’Andre Swift tremendously. But for this article, hitting a successful deep play or two is what will help take the focus of the biggest receiving threat currently on the Lions roster.
If it can’t be done, expect defenses to stack the box with eight defenders and pin their ears back on passing downs to get to Goff before he can make a play. It will be tough sledding for this Detroit Lions offense at that point. But no matter if these big plays happen early in the season, Hockenson will still need to step up and carry the receiving corps in 2021. Here’s hoping they can make it happen.