The Detroit Lions suffered a significant injury against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 4 when rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson left the game. After a hurdle attempt, he landed on his head and was knocked unconscious—a scary situation for the young playmaker. It is still unclear how long he will be out of commission, but the Lions may need to find someone to take up his role on the offense.
In today’s NFL, tight ends are often mismatch weapons, and Hockenson is certainly that. He has the size to beat most corners and safeties, and he has the speed to beat most cover linebackers. As well, Hockenson has been utilized a lot as a blocker this season in Darrell Bevell’s offense, so that will also have to be replaced.
Today’s Question of the Day is:
If Hockenson is out, who should replace him on offense?
My answer: I have four candidates that could replace Hockenson. The Lions could sign someone like Benjamin Watson, but I would much rather see an in-house replacement.
The most obvious one is Jesse James. James has experience as a starting tight end from his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and while he isn’t the athlete that Hockenson is, he is dependable in the passing game. He can also contribute as a blocker, where he has spent a majority of his snaps this season. However, it would not surprise me if James’ role stays the same, while another player slots into Hockenson’s spot on the offense.
Seventh-round rookie Isaac Nauta, who is currently on the practice squad, is an option, though not an exciting one. Nauta is a bad athlete, especially compared to Hockenson, but the Lions liked him enough to keep around despite a poor preseason. It would certainly be a lot for the rookie, especially considering they have a veteran in James, who can do what Nauta does except much better. Do not expect a promotion unless Hockenson gets placed on the Injured Reserve — which would go against previous reports that he would avoid it.
Another candidate to replace him on offense would be Marvin Hall. Now I know what you are thinking, and yes, Hall is not a tight end. At 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, Hall could be a candidate to replace Hockenson as a mismatch weapon, except Hall would do it with pure speed. Hall saw a significant uptick in snaps against the Chiefs, and while that coincides with a banged-up receiving corps, he also shined in his limited role. He caught two catches for 47 yards, one of which was this spectacular throw and catch:
According to Next Gen Stats, this 34-yard "improbable completion" from Matthew Stafford to Marvin Hall had a 22.9-percent chance probability of being completed.— Erik Schlitt (@erikschlitt) September 30, 2019
The most difficult pass to complete in the NFL during Week 4. pic.twitter.com/Zcc1BlHLHq
Though I expect Hall to have a bigger role going forward, my pick for the player most likely to replace Hockenson is tight end Logan Thomas. The former quarterback is an elite athlete at tight end, and he has shown plenty of improvement over his career. The Detroit Lions originally converted him to tight end, and after a minimal role with the Buffalo Bills for two seasons, he returned to Detroit and has looked decent. He is not the blocker Hockenson or James are, but he certainly has the ability to be a receiving threat on offense.
You do not see many former quarterbacks making a catch like this:
Matt Stafford was sharp on the first drive. Forced Marvin Jones to make a diving catch that probably wasn't necessary early on, but was mostly on target and on time. Nice ball to Logan Thomas on the sideline to set up for a TD a few plays later. pic.twitter.com/G0owmP0XTY— Derrik Klassen (@QBKlass) September 23, 2019