The Detroit Lions have a special player in tight end T.J. Hockenson, and if some folks might not yet believe it, they should only consult his former college teammate to get an idea of what he has to offer.
During Super Bowl week, George Kittle took time to speak about Hockenson, his former Iowa teammate. As he said, he thinks he should be primed for big things coming up in the future.
In a piece by Tim Twentyman of DetroitLions.com, Kittle explained how Hockenson’s natural talent has always shined through. Additionally, he said that it might merely take time for him to get things trending in the right direction in the NFL.
Here’s a look at what he said in Twentyman’s piece:
“T.J. is a hell of player,” Kittle said at 49ers media availability Wednesday night in Miami. “I remember his first summer workouts, him and Noah (Denver rookie first-round pick Noah Fant) came in and it was the very first 7-on-7 drill and he completely Mossed a guy, ripped the ball right out of his hands and I was like, ‘Well, good thing I’m graduating because he’ll probably take my spot.'”
Kittle went on to catch 22 passes his senior year at Iowa for 314 yards and four touchdowns. He was a fifth-round pick by San Francisco the following offseason, and has gone on to become one of the best tight ends in the NFL in just his third season. He caught 85 passes for 1,053 yards and five touchdowns this season.
Hockenson redshirted at Iowa that 2016 season, but went on to have a terrific college career, and was the No. 8 overall pick by the Detroit Lions in 2019. He played in 12 games this past season before an ankle injury ended his rookie season prematurely. He finished with 32 receptions for 367 yards and a couple scores.
“He’s incredibly gifted, and he knows that,” Kittle said of Hockenson. “He’s got a lot of great days ahead of him. Playing tight end as a rookie is tough. I wasn’t very special my rookie year. It’s not just X’s and O’s, you have to grow up a little bit, too.”
Hockenson will likely be more ready to take on the 2020 season when he is a sophomore and not a freshman in NFL circles. Hearing Kittle’s own experience with acclimating to the league might only prove that Hockenson’s time to emerge will come in the future.
Tony Gonzalez Lauds T.J. Hockenson
It’s not just former teammates giving Hockenson the love. According to Fox Sports analyst Tony Gonzalez, Hockenson can be a great player in the league, and even an All-Pro. Gonzalez spoke with Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press in a piece, and provided his take on Hockenson, who he said has a bright future in the league.
Here’s what he said:
“He can be an All-Pro, no doubt about it,” Fox analyst Tony Gonzalez said Tuesday at Super Bowl 54. “Get him in the right system, he can be an All-Pro.”
Hockenson finished the season with 32 catches for 367 yards, third among rookie tight ends, but he impressed Gonzalez in other areas on and off the field.
“He’s great,” Gonzalez said. “He’s great. You know what the luxury of these tight ends that you’re seeing, when I was coming up — back in my day — you didn’t see too much of that receiving-type tight end, being so involved in the offense.
“And so for him to see guys like (Travis) Kelce and to see (George) Kittle in this game, he’s got to be inspired. And watching his ability, he’s a baller. Like, he is on his way to having an outstanding career.”
Gonzalez said that Hockenson can be as good as he wants to be for the Lions as long as he continues to work hard and challenge himself. Safe to say that won’t be a problem for a hard working young player, so the sky could be the limit, especially if he works with Gonzalez.
Right now, it seems Hockenson is already ready to do that.
Injuries Cost T.J. Hockenson This Season
After his sterling debut in the season opener, Hockenson faced injury trouble almost immediately. He hit the turf hard playing against the Kansas City Chiefs and missed time, was nearly hurt again in the middle of the season against the Oakland Raiders. Late in the season, Hockenson sustained a sickening looking foot injury which left him in a boot and cost him the end of the season.
Hockenson didn’t stay healthy, and if he had, would probably have enjoyed a much better year on the field. There is simply no understating the importance of Hockenson to the Lions in the future. The team didn’t get much of anything from any of the other tight ends on their roster, and while he hasn’t had the most dramatic statistical impact, Hockenson has easily been one of the team’s top rookies in 2019 and a player capable of impacting both the run and the passing games.
During the season, many fans chided Hockenson for not making a bigger impact on the game. He had only 367 yards and 2 touchdowns on the year which is not the statistical impact that many people expected from him as a top 10 selection for the team.
Safe to say if Hockenson was able to play the end of the season, his stats could have ended up different. The Lions will hope he can get things on the right track for 2020.
According to Kittle, someone who knows him well, Hockenson might only need time to make that happen.