The Lion King of Detroit
I don't want to sound redundant. You already know.
The tight end position in Fantasy Football has been uninspiring over the last decade.
You can probably count on both hands the number of difference makers at the position, both in the present day and from years past. That's not a lot, to say the least.
However, fear not! The tide is turning. An influx of talent has arrived.
The 2019 tight end class was one of the best in recent memory. It had size, speed, and athleticism, culminating in the top three prospects to be selected within the first 50 picks of the 2019 NFL Draft. But, the first one picked - TJ Hockenson - has the makings of a cornerstone. Hockenson was chosen 8th overall by the Lions, signaling that the organization also believes that he can be a difference maker.
With that being said, let's dive into his skill set to see just how good(or great?) he can be. After dissecting his film, I'll point out some interesting trends to keep in mind as he enters his second year under Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevel and his system.
In Week 1 of 2019, Hockenson burst onto the scene showcasing his talent immediately. It was a sign of things to come and his potential. On this play, Hockenson lines up off the line of scrimmage and runs a seven yard out route, creating separation from the linebacker on his break. As soon as he breaks, notice how he whips his head around to see the ball in and then get upfield, all in one continuing motion. He also shows very underrated speed along the sideline, to lose the LB assigned to defend him.
Hockenson is lined up in the backfield in a Wing-T set and gets a free release to the middle of the field on a nice crossing route. If you watch closely, you can see him avoid the cluster under control out of the backfield and then pick up speed at the second level, showing off that 4.7 40 time. He's too fast for the LB to catch up. Also, a nice catch with his hands, and not his body - indicating he understands this intricate detail of his position.
Hockenson is lined up next to the right tackle on this one and runs a seam after letting the slot WR clear. Stafford does a good job to extend this play and finds Hockenson for the touchdown. We don't see what happens after Hockenson gets upfield, but just focus on his desire to make a play in front of the three Cardinals defenders. At 6'5, he's a huge target for Stafford.
This is a really nice post corner route inside the red zone with the ball at the five yard line. First off, this is a beauty of a throw by Stafford to put this on his inside shoulder away from the defender. And then you'll see how Hockenson understands adjusting to the football to make a play. You don't see this from a lot of rookies, especially young tight ends. Football IQ at its finest. As he progresses each year, this will only get better.
I found a couple of plays that showed Hockenson's versatility, as evident in this tight end screen here. Darrell Bevell(Lions OC) showed trust in the rookie to call his number. Hockenson comes in motion and sets up for the screen. The thing to notice here is his ability in the open field to break tackles and make people miss. He's naturally strong at 6'5, 252 lbs, and will only get stronger and develop into a true weapon in the Lions offense.
The final play to show is another screen but a different look this time. Hard to know if his job was to chip the defender first, but, either way, it's still important to point out. He has the wherewithal to slow down the defender as to not disrupt the play and then be ready to catch the ball in less than a second. Once again, pay attention to his explosiveness in the open field. See the hole and get upfield. Expect to see more of the same this season.
2020, And What It Might Bring
As I mentioned before in my introduction, there are some interesting trends to keep in mind while Hockenson enters his second year under Darrell Bevel. Bevel coached in Minnesota and Seattle at his previous stops before arriving in Detroit. His system has shown to be very tight end friendly when he knows he has a good one. Let's look at the two tight ends he coached in both places and their fantasy finishes by year two.
In Minnesota, he first started with Visanthe Shiancoe - a 3rd round pick of the Giants in 2003. Shiancoe arrived in Minnesota in 2007 and by 2008(his second year under Bevell), he finished as the TE5, and then TE6 the following year in 2009. Once Bevell left Minnesota for Seattle, luck would have it that the Seahawks signed Jimmy Graham away from the Saints - who at the time, was still an elite player at the position. Graham finished as the TE20 in his 1st year under Bevell in 2015. What happened in 2016, the following year? Graham finished as the TE4 and then TE6 in 2017. What's even more interesting is, by their second year, both Shiancoe and Graham would finish no less than third on their respective teams in targets. Simply put, if Hockenson can show that he's ready for a larger role in 2020, he's going to get it.
To wrap up, Hockenson has all the tools to make a sizable leap in 2020 with his intriguing skillset and situation in Detroit. No one will argue with you, if you either, passed on the elite tight ends and drafted Hockenson as your TE1; or, if you did draft one of them, and then snagged Hockenson near the 7th-8th round of startups as your tight end of the future. I myself did both, in case you were wondering. Whatever you decided to do, just know that there's a good shot your investment will pay off in a big way.
And hopefully it will lead to a dynasty gem you've uncovered and a cornerstone piece for a long time.
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