The Detroit Lions expect tight end T.J. Hockenson to take “the next step,” year 2

GLENDALE, ARIZONA – SEPTEMBER 08: Tight end T.J. Hockenson #88 of the Detroit Lions catches a pass prior to the NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium on September 08, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)

T. J. Hockenson is the Detroit Lions undisputed No. 1 tight end on the depth chart. During his rookie campaign Hockenson caught 32 balls for 367 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games. A nice rookie season that ended with an ankle injury. Now the young tight end looks to improve heading into his sophomore season.

T. J. Hockenson was the Detroit Lions 2019 first round draft pick out of the University of Iowa. The biggest question Hockenson faces is weather he can be a threat in the Lions passing game week in and week out.

Before COVID-19 shut many things down, T. J. Hockenson was working with  Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez. Who during his playing days had rookie numbers close to that of Hockenson. Gonzalez’s rookie numbers were 33 catches for 368 yards and two scores in 16 games.

During the offseason, Hockenson worked out and bulked up. That should help him in his all around game. Bulking up alone does not help a players game. That comes from talent. By all accounts Hockenson has the talent to join the short list of NFL’s best tight ends.

One area of concern is the aforementioned ankle injury sustained last season. Hockenson recently said he is still not 100%. The fact that as time has past and the Lions tight end still has persisting ankle issues is of note.

The Detroit Lions are banking on Hockenson taking the next step forward this season. What is unknown at this time is how much playing time he will have on a bulky ankle.

T. J. Hockenson has all the tools to be an elite tight end. If he can take the next step the Detroit Lions offense will be even more dangerous.

A Hall of Fame tight end believes Detroit Lions TJ Hockenson can join the list of elite tight ends

Embed from Getty Images Just how important has the tight end position become in the NFL? Last year the best tight end in the game played in the Super Bowl, now the two best tight ends in the NFL are getting ready to play in Super Bowl LIV on Sunday night in Miami. What does that mean for the Detroit Lions and first round draft pick TJ Hockenson?

Tony Gonzalez, who was one of the best tight ends the NFL has ever seen and a member of the NFL Hall of Fame recently said, “He can be an All-Pro, no doubt about it,” speaking of TJ Hockenson.

That is quite the endorsement coming from one of the positions all-time greats. It gets better for both the Detroit Lions and TJ Hockenson. Tony Gonzalez would like to workout and mentor the young tight end.

Hockenson began his NFL career with a big training camp, then had a big game against the Arizona Cardinals in a 131 yard debut. That is more yards than any rookie tight end making his debut in NFL history.

That was the high point for Hockenson and the Lions. After that big start TJ came down to earth a bit, he averaged 21.5 yards per game the rest of the way, never had more than 56, and was average as a blocker. Then he suffered an ankle injury that sidelined him for the final month of the season. He finished with 367 yards on 32 catches for the year.

Tight end is the most difficult position to play. The player needs to be a receiver, a blocker as well as understand defensive coverages. Tony Gonzalez, said “Like I said, you just got to keep taking it to that next level and you got to keep challenging him. And hopefully I’ll get a chance to talk to him. I talked to all these tight ends, young tight ends in the league, so if you do see him, tell him to reach out to me because to me that’s what separates the good ones from the great ones.”

TJ Hockenson said he would love the opportunity to get to gather with the former NFL legend, which can do nothing but help.

Tight End T.J. Hockenson shining in Detroit Lions training camp

Embed from Getty Images The first stretch of the 2019 Detroit Lions training camp could not have been much more promising for T.J. Hockenson the Lions first round pick out of Iowa. Yet, rookie tight ends usually need time to develop.

As a pass-catcher, T.J. Hockenson is exceeding the high expectations that come with being a top ten draft pick . He runs routes to all depths and has showcased outstanding hands and body control. Working  confined spacing, Hockenson is getting quality separation on his routes and catching everything thrown his direction. He has owned the back corner of the end zone on flag patterns.

The Lions are planning on going to two tight ends and a fullback in the red zone. Given tight end Jesse James and Hockenson, quarterback Matthew Stafford will have plenty of options. Big targets, with great hands. Something Detroit has lacked for some time out of the tight end position.

Through five days of training camp T.J. Hockenson is yet to drop a pass. That should come as no surprise. With the Iowa Hawkeyes, Hockenson had 1 dropped pass in three years as a starter.

T.J. Hockenson is a sneaky athlete who has the speed and quickness to stretch the middle of the field from the tight end position. He is often compared to former New England Patriots tight end and future NFL Hall of Fame member Rob Gronkowski. A lofty comparison to be sure. Yet, Hockenson is living up to the billing.

T.J. Hockenson is a match up nightmare. He approaches linebackers and defensive backs the same and he comes down with the ball.  Hockenson is also strong in running after catch and also as a tight end  is an elite blocker.

One NFL scout said this about T.J. “T.J. Hockenson is gonna be a problem in the red zone. When they were able to clear out space and get him to the back corner, he was basically unguardable. Impressive start.”

It would be one thing if the rookie tight end did it one or two times. But Hockenson is routinely making big play after big play. The Detroit Lions appear to have finally found a tight end who can be a game-changer.