It’s hard to blame skeptical fans of the Detroit Lions when they criticized the selection of Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson during the 2020 NFL Draft. After all, the last time the Lions drafted a tight end in the top ten it didn’t turn out so well.
Of course, we’re referring to Eric Ebron. Selected tenth overall in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Lions chose Ebron over names like Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., and Notre Dame guard Zack Martin.
Ebron would never live up to his lofty draft status in the Motor City. And he wouldn’t actually make his first Pro Bowl until after leaving Detroit to join the Indianapolis Colts. That won’t be the case for Hockenson.
After posting a modest rookie season, Hockenson exploded for 67 receptions for 723 yards and six touchdowns in 2020, doubling his production from his first year in Motown. The 23-year old was targeted 101 times by quarterback Matthew Stafford and would receive his first Pro Bowl nomination in just his second year in the NFL.
But following the Lions’ 5-11 ending to last season, Detroit made some wholesale changes at every level within their organization. Now possessing a new general manager, head coach, coaching staff, and soon, a new quarterback under center, the 2021 Lions will look much different than the team fielded in previous years.
And while the Lions figure to part ways with many players associated with the previous regime, Hockenson is viewed as a foundational talent Detroit’s newest residents can build upon. In fact, new offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn believes the young tight end’s ceiling is even higher as he told DetroitLions.com recently that he thinks Hockenson can play even better than he did last year.
Here’s what NFL.com Digital Content Producer Adam Maya wrote on the league’s official website recently about Lynn’s work with tight ends in the past and how that might make Hockenson even better.
“Lynn’s history with tight ends suggests Hockenson could soon become a great one. The former Chargers head coach and Bills OC manifested the talents of Hunter Henry and Charles Clay at his previous stops. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Hockenson is built similarly to Henry, only he’s more athletic and a superior blocker.”
When Hockenson was drafted, his selection was viewed as a player who could impact the Lions’ offense in multiple ways. His impact in the passing game is evident. But his impact on the running game, both as a blocker and as a player that requires extra attention from the defense, also had the potential to help unlock Detroit’s struggling rushing attack.
With Anthony Lynn now at the helm, T.J. Hockenson appears to be set to take his game to another level. And his Pro Bowl presence should benefit the offense in several ways including giving the team’s new quarterback a reliable security blanket from day one and running back D’Andre Swift bigger rushing lanes.