Dan Campbell praises and sets the bar for T.J. Hockenson

Mandatory Credit: David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports /

Coming into a season where he needs to put it all together, Lions head coach Dan Campbell has conveyed confidence in T.J. Hockenson.

As the price of his looming contract extension continues to climb, the Detroit Lions have a big decision to make on tight end T.J. Hockenson. He has topped 60 catches in back-to-back seasons, with a Pro Bowl selection in 2020.

The Lions picked up Hockenson’s fifth-year option earlier this offseason, so he’s under contract through 2023. The hand injury that ended his 2021 season after 12 games exposed a lack of depth behind him, but some effort has been taken to rectify that with the signing of Garrett Griffin in free agency and the drafting of James Mitchell.

Before the Lions’ OTA practice on Thursday, head coach Dan Campbell talked about Hockenson.

"I look at it as, what do we ask him to do and can he win? When we ask him to win, can he win?” Campbell said in his press conference.. “And I think what we want is, we want T.J. to go out and win and do what he does. Third down, criticals, when you need it, when your time’s called..Here’s the beauty of Hockenson, and I’ve said this before, he’s a guy who’s a willing blocker and has the ability to win a one-on-one matchup in the pass game,” Campbell said. “So, when you have that ability and you’re willing to get in there and mix it up in the run game, that’s a good thing. Those guys aren’t always easy to find.”He’ll tell you that, too, that he’s still got room to grow even in there, in the run-blocking for us,” Campbell said. “I think he takes that next step on top of continuing to improve in the pass game.”"

Detroit Lions: T.J. Hockenson has dropped off as a run blocker

Hockenson posted a 74.9 Pro Football Focus grade as a run blocker as a rookie in 2019. Last year, he registered a 45.1 PFF run blocking grade. Willingness to block like Campbell pointed to is fine, but being effective is just as important.

There’s no denying Hockenson’s pass-catching skills, with a contested catch rate over 70 percent last year to go with a drop rate less than two percent (the precise numbers vary a bit based on the source). He does line up in the slot a lot (a top-10 rate among tight ends last year, according to Player Profiler), but especially when he’s lined up inline he has to be more functional as a blocker.

Campbell wasn’t going to tip any hand on if or when a contract extension for Hockenson will get done. But when it gets done, and it does seem to be a matter of when and not if, the Lions will be buying into the potential the No. 8 pick in the 2019 draft still has left to fulfill as he rounds out his game.

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