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Statistical breakdown of T.J. Hockenson rookie expectations

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Using the past to predict Hockenson’s immediate future

NFL: NFL Draft Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

T.J. Hockenson is different. At least that’s what we think right? He’s one of only four tight ends to be selected in the top 10 of the NFL Draft in the last 20 years. He’s also rare in the sense that not only was he the No. 1 tight end on everyone’s board, he was also in the top 10 of a lot of draft expert’s big board. The consensus is that Hockenson is going to be pretty good.

In Detroit, it’s pretty split. One half of the room believes that Hockenson is going to be a game changer right away while the other half of the room believes the Lions made a mistake and can’t wait for him to drop a ball or make some sort of mistake so they can say they were right about the Lions striking out on another tight end.

One thing is for sure. Both sides of the room need to adjust their expectations. If you want Hockenson to be a superstar right away, that’s more than likely not going to happen. Also, if you’re thinking that if Hockenson will be a bust if he’s not a superstar right out of the gate, then you’d be really wrong.

So then what should be expected in Hockenson’s rookie year? Let’s talk about that today. Remember when we talked about those other three tight ends that were selected ion the top 10? Let’s take a look at what they did their rookie year.

Rookie production of TEs selected in the top 10 (1999-2018)

Player Receptions Yards Touchdowns
Player Receptions Yards Touchdowns
Kellen Winslow 5 50 0
Vernon Davis 20 265 3
Eric Ebron 25 248 1

As you can see, these guys who went on to have pretty productive careers didn’t do much of anything in their rookie years. They’re all pretty good cases to prove that a rookie tight end is going to struggle with their transition into the pro game. But I don’t feel like these three are really telling the story well enough. So let’s expand this even more.

In the last 10 years there have been 10 tight ends selected in the first round of the draft. Two of them went this year: Hockenson’s and his former Iowa teammate Noah Fant. The other eight had the same mixed results as the three we listed above. Check it out.

Rookie production of TEs selected in 1st round (2009-18)

Player Receptions Yards Touchdowns
Player Receptions Yards Touchdowns
Brandon Pettigrew 30 346 2
Jermaine Gresham 52 471 4
Tyler Eifert 39 445 2
Eric Ebron 25 248 1
O.J. Howard 26 432 6
Evan Engram 64 722 6
David Njoku 32 386 4
Hayden Hurst 13 163 2

Obviously the first thing Lions fans will notice here is that their team is on this list twice. It’s another reason why some Lions fans believe Hockenson is doomed before he hits the field.

But the other thing to notice is that, again, none of these guys produced big in their rookie year outside of Evan Engram. That’s probably the best you could hope for from Hockenson this year to be honest. Everyone else flies in at that nice 400-yard range.

Still not convinced? That’s fine. In my true fashion, I did way too much stat diving and I now have our last and biggest pool of tight ends to look at. Not every tight end that went on to be great was selected in the first round. Some of the greatest of all time weren’t drafted until a later round. Like Rob Gronkowski, for example.

So what we have next is every tight end selected in the first three rounds of the last 10 NFL Drafts. Let’s see how they played in their rookie year.

Rookie production of TEs selected in Rounds 1-3 (2009-18)

Player Receptions Yards Touchdowns Round
Player Receptions Yards Touchdowns Round
Brandon Pettigrew 30 346 2 1
Richard Quinn 0 0 0 2
Jared Cook 9 74 0 3
Chase Coffman 3 30 0 3
Travis Beckum 8 55 0 3
Jermaine Gresham 52 471 4 1
Rob Gronkowski 42 546 10 2
Ed Dickson 11 152 1 3
Tony Moeaki 47 556 3 3
Jimmy Graham 31 356 5 3
Kyle Rudolph 26 249 3 2
Lance Kendricks 28 352 0 2
Rob Housler 12 133 0 3
Coby Fleener 26 281 2 2
Dwayne Allen 45 521 3 3
Michael Egnew 0 0 0 3
Tyler Eifert 39 445 2 1
Zach Ertz 36 469 4 2
Gavin Escobar 9 134 2 2
Vance McDonald 8 119 0 2
Travis Kelce 0 0 0 3
Jordan Reed 45 499 3 3
Eric Ebron 25 248 1 1
Austin Seferian-Jenkins 21 221 2 2
Jace Amaro 38 345 2 2
Troy Niklas 3 38 0 2
C.J. Fiedorowicz 4 28 1 3
Richard Rodgers 20 225 2 3
Maxx Williams 32 268 1 2
Clive Walford 38 329 3 3
Tyler Kroft 11 129 1 3
Jeff Heuerman 9 141 0 3
Hunter Henry 36 478 8 2
Austin Hooper 27 19 3 3
Nick Vannett 3 32 0 3
O.J. Howard 26 432 6 1
Evan Engram 64 722 6 1
David Njoku 32 386 4 1
Gerald Everett 16 244 2 2
Adam Shaheen 12 127 3 2
Jonnu Smith 18 157 2 3
Hayden Hurst 13 163 2 1
Mike Gesicki 22 202 0 2
Dallas Goedert 33 334 4 2
Mark Andrews 34 552 3 3
Jordan Akins 17 225 0 3

Different grouping of players, same story. Evan Engram continues to have the best rookie year of a group of tight ends that features the aforementioned Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham and Travis Kelce.

Let’s have a little fun now. Let’s try to predict Hockenson’s stats for his rookie year using what we learned here. Let’s say that the average of all 46 of these tight ends is what Hockenson will do. If that’s the case, how does 23 receptions for 257 yards and two touchdowns sound? Yeah, I don’t like that either.

Let’s narrow it down and see the average of all the first-round tight ends and see if maybe Hockenson will do something like that. How about 35 receptions for 401 yards and four touchdowns?

That doesn’t seem too appealing either, but this is more than likely what you have to look forward to. It will take time for Hockenson to get adjusted to being in the NFL and a brand-new offense. We know this because every rookie tight end seems to have this problem. You can hope for the high end of things and maybe Hockenson will churn out 500-600 yards and five or six touchdowns, but you must be prepared to not get that all.

Basically all I’m saying is to be careful with the hype and be sure to temper your expectations. Or if you’re on the “Hockenson will be a bust” side of the room, give the man some time to get acclimated before you decide you hate him.