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Grading the Detroit Lions’ first-round pick: T.J. Hockenson

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T.J. Hockenson is the best tight end in the draft, but was he good enough to warrant the eight overall pick?

NFL: NFL Draft Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions made Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson their first-round selection last night with the eight overall pick, a move that left the Lions fanbase unsure of how to react, if nothing else.

At the Pride of Detroit draft party, word had gotten around as the pick went in that the Lions turned down trade offers and were dead set on their pick. That left the crowd expecting names like Devin Bush, Ed Oliver, even some suggesting Dwayne Haskins—someone who would make a splash. To seemingly everyone’s surprise, Commissioner Goodell took the podium and announced T.J. Hockenson’s name.

That’s where the confusion came in; T.J. Hockenson was anything but a splash pick. Reflecting back on it now, we all should’ve seen it coming—Hockenson was the safe, high-floor, low-risk pick, exactly what general manager Bob Quinn has proven time and time again he likes in the first round (see: Taylor Decker, Jarrad Davis, Frank Ragnow).

It took me time to warm up to the pick. I never disliked it, per se, but I was in disbelief that the Lions turned down trade offers for Hockenson.

That being said, Hockenson is still a good selection from a talent perspective. He’s a top-notch athlete and excels in everything except for long speed (4.71 40-yard dash), but still utilizes his other talents to find ways to get open. If he had a pro comparison, it would likely be Travis Kelce.

Then there’s the flipside, which brings into account the value perspective. Taking a tight end in the first half of Day 1 will always raise eyebrows as a result of the much lower marginal value of drafting a tight end compared to someone like a pass rusher.

For what it’s worth, I firmly believe the Lions know what they’re doing with this pick. Hockenson is anything but Eric Ebron for those jumping to make that comparison, and statistically speaking, Darrell Bevell’s offenses feature a target share that goes in the order of WR1, WR2, and TE1. Hockenson will be featured early and often, and a big, athletic body like him will be put to good use to solve the Lions’ third down and red zone woes from previous years.

From a talent perspective, I give this pick an A+. With the exception of a generational talent, you won’t find a more well-rounded tight end in the draft. Hockenson is very low-risk with an extremely high floor.

From a value perspective, I give this pick a C+. Hockenson is the highest tight end drafted since Vernon Davis was the sixth overall pick in the 2006 draft, and the Lions can’t play the game of waiting three to four years for tight end development since they spent the eight overall pick on him. Hockenson’s experience in Iowa’s pro-style offense should make that much less of a concern than other tight ends, however.

From a circumstance perspective, I also give this a C. Adam Schefter reported that the Lions turned down trade offers because they were set on their guy, and that guy turned out to be Hockenson. While we don’t know what offers were made, turning down trade offers as well as the plethora of elite talent that managed to fall to the Lions at eight will mean that Hockenson will have high expectations to live up to with the Lions.

Overall Grade: B