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Campbell: Tight ends like T.J. Hockenson ‘aren’t always easy to find’

As the Lions inch closer to a major decision on T.J. Hockenson’s future, he got a vote of confidence from head coach Dan Campbell.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

T.J. Hockenson has been a hot topic of conversation over the past week after Cleveland Browns' tight end David Njoku received a four-year extension worth an average of $13.7 million per year. With Hockenson nearing the end of his rookie contract—he’s currently signed through 2023 after Detroit exercised his fifth-year option earlier this offseason—many are wondering if the Detroit Lions should offer a similar deal to their 24-year-old tight end.

Head coach Dan Campbell isn’t going to tip his hat on whether Detroit is going to give Hockenson an extension any time soon, but he did have some high praise for the tight end before Thursday’s OTA practice.

“Here’s the beauty of Hockenson, and I’ve said this before, he’s a guy who’s a willing blocker and has the ability to win a one-on-one matchup in the pass game,” Campbell said. “So, when you have that ability and you’re willing to get in there and mix it up in the run game, that’s a good thing. Those guys aren’t always easy to find.”

From the minute he was drafted, Hockenson was billed as a two-way player for the Lions. At the University of Iowa, Hockenson racked up 760 yards and six touchdowns in his final season, and he also recorded a solid 74.9 PFF grade in run blocking.

Only some of that has translated to the NFL thus far through Hockenson’s first three seasons. Hockenson has displayed his skills as a receiver on several occasions, with his most successful season being 2021—when he pulled in 67 catches for 723 yards and six touchdowns on his way to a Pro Bowl bid.

The run blocking, however, has been much more inconsistent, and Campbell knows it.

“He’ll tell you that, too, that he’s still got room to grow even in there, in the run-blocking for us,” Campbell said. “I think he takes that next step on top of continuing to improve in the pass game.”

If Hockenson does indeed take that next step as a run blocker, the Lions will likely have to empty their piggy bank to retain him. But Campbell noted that while Hockenson’s are not easy to find, he’s also not going to be asked to be the featured weapon in Detroit like some of the other highest-paid tight ends in this league.

“I look at it as what are we asking him to do, and can he win?” Campbell said. “When we ask him to win, can he win? Because I think sometimes when you start thinking about (Travis) Kelce and (Darren) Waller and Kyle Pitts, for a long time, some of those guys are the showcase guy.

“I think what we want is we want T.J. to just go out and win and do what he does (on) third down, criticals, when you need it, when your time’s called because we’ve got (Amon-Ra) St. Brown, we’ve got (DJ) Chark, (Jameson) Williams will come along. We’ve got (Josh) Reynolds, we’ve got (D’Andre) Swift. So he’s a piece of the puzzle, and when his number’s called, we know he’s going to win, and that’s a comforting feeling.”