Somewhere along the way during his 11-year career, Matthew Stafford developed a reputation of avoiding tight ends. The primary source of this misconception was likely the Eric Ebron era. For a top-10 pick, expectations were extremely high for Ebron. However, in his four years in Detroit, he only finished in the top three in team targets once.
But this hasn’t always been the case for Stafford. Early in his career, Brandon Pettigrew was one of his favorite targets. In fact, there was a three-year stretch in which Stafford targeted Pettigrew over 100 times a season (Ebron’s career high in Detroit was 86), second only to Calvin Johnson in those years.
And with the Lions heavily investing in both T.J. Hockenson and Jesse James, Matthew Stafford’s love of tight ends will reemerge in 2019.
That’s what Pro Football Focus is thinking, too. PFF’s Michael Manning wrote about the kind of impact Hockenson may have on the Lions’ franchise quarterback, and it’s clear he’s quite optimistic.
“Hockenson should, at the very least, be the most dependable tight end Stafford has played with in his career, as the former Hawkeye dropped only two of his 75 catchable passes that came throughout his college career,” Manning wrote.
PFF also provided a bunch of interesting stats regarding Stafford’s impressive statistics targeting tight ends. In the past 10 years, Stafford has earned an 81.1 passing grade when targeting tight ends in the red zone, good for ninth in the NFL. But over that same span of time, the Lions have had the fifth worst drop rate among TEs at 7.7 percent.
That isn’t to say Stafford hasn’t struggled when targeting tight ends. PFF also notes that his 79.1 career grade when targeting tight ends is just 28th among qualifying quarterbacks.
Although the Lions have tried to revitalize the tight end position in the past—drafting Eric Ebron and signing free agent after free agent—Manning believes Hockenson provides something different and unique. He’s, in Manning’s words, “one of the best all-around tight ends to enter the NFL in some time.” Here’s why:
“Hockenson is one of just three tight ends since 2014 to earn a 90.0-plus overall grade, a 90.0-plus receiving grade, an 80.0-plus drop grade and a 70.0-plus run-blocking grade in their final college season”
From 2009 to 2013, nobody threw to tight ends more than Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions. With the Lions finally sporting two above average tight ends six years later, it’s time for Stafford to find his groove again with tight ends.