Many Lions fans will shudder at the thought of their team selecting a tight end in the first round. After all, they haven’t had much luck with them. Eric Ebron, selected with the 10th overall pick in 2014, is off to bigger and better things in Indianapolis after failing to live up to his expectations. Brandon Pettigrew, who was taken with the 20th overall pick in 2009, actually signed a second contract with the Lions in 2014 and had a few solid seasons sprinkled in during his tenure, but was out of the league only two years after signing said contract.
To me, it’s often difficult to justify taking a tight end in the first round. While every position is important to an NFL team, a tight end’s value just isn’t quite as high as quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs and arguably every position on the offensive line. However, each team varies on how integral tight ends will be in their offensive scheme. And watching Iowa TE T.J. Hockenson might make you rethink your stance on selecting a tight end in the first round. But is he worth a top-10 pick?
T.J. Hockenson, TE, Iowa
6-foot-5, 250 pounds
2017 stats: 10 games | 24 receptions | 320 yards | 3 TDs
2018 stats: 13 games | 49 receptions | 760 yards | 6 TDs | 1 rush | 4 yards | 1 TD
Current draft projection: First round
T.J. Hockenson led B1G tight ends in passer rating when targeted, just one of his many accomplishments this season. pic.twitter.com/tHMdFvqQ0Z— PFF College (@PFF_College) January 17, 2019
Hockenson’s stock has soared through the roof and was relatively unknown before the 2018 season. His numbers more than doubled in nearly every category, and once all eyes were on him, he was able to put his freakish athleticism on display. Despite that athleticism and size, Hockenson was only just a three-star athlete out of high school, getting attention from multiple schools including Michigan State, but only received two offers (Iowa and Iowa State).
Back in December, Hockenson received the Mackey Award, given to the top tight end in college football.
Both Hockenson and his teammate Noah Fant will have a chance at making history by being the first tight ends drafted in the first round from the same school.
- Very good size and length for the position and displays near-elite athleticism.
- Tape vs. Wisconsin is NSFW and some of the best you’ll ever see from a tight end.
- As versatile as it gets at the position. Can do anything you ask of him offensively.
- Smooth and crisp route runner. Sinks hips, gets low and explodes out of his breaks; very good at creating separation at the top of his routes. Has experienced the full route tree.
- Technically sound as a blocker. Footwork and positioning are very advanced for a college tight end. Keeps hands inside and does a fantastic job of turning defenders away from the play in the run game.
- Shows soft hands and has made some nice acrobatic catches. Finds the ball well with good body control and awareness.
- Can pick up some nice yardage after the catch when given the ball in the open field. Has a nasty hurdle that will embarrass most defenders.
- Can sometimes struggle with physicality through routes. Can get knocked off his path and off balance early in the route. Would like to see him add some extra weight/muscle to his frame.
- Prone to overextending as a run blocker. Will struggle with bigger and stronger defenders that know how to use his momentum against him.
- Not as fluid as Fant and can notice very slight labored movements. Inconsistent when selling breaks; occasionally telegraphs routes.
- Would like to see more instances of him high-pointing the ball and making contested catches (not exactly his fault for the lack of opportunities).
Overview and Projection
It’s really difficult to knock Hockenson for much, and I believe that he is a legitimate first-round talent, but he isn’t quite polished enough as a talent to justify taking him over some other top talents in the top-10, especially when you factor in positional value. The Lions could do far worse with the eighth overall pick, but I believe Hockenson’s value is closer to the 20s range than he is near the Lions’ pick. If he manages to test extremely well, which he should, then maybe his stock rises a little higher, but still, No. 8 is a bit too rich for me.
If the Lions do select Hockenson, whether it means they take him in their current spot or trade down and get him, then that fills maybe their biggest void on offense. Hockenson will contribute Day 1 at tight end and will thrive in today’s NFL. His athleticism, hands and route-running ability make him a major threat in the passing game and his abilities as a blocker are not far behind.