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Can Detroit Lions Trust T.J. Hockenson?

The talented tight end will be entering his fourth season in the NFL in 2022.

When the Detroit Lions drafted tight end T.J. Hockenson with their first pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the hope was that he would become a franchise-altering weapon in the passing game.

Three years into his career, the impact has been two-fold. On one hand, the Iowa product has proven he can be prolific at times. Yet, he has dealt with injuries that have abbreviated two of his first three seasons in the league.

Heading into the offseason ahead of an important fourth year, the question is posed as to whether or not Hockenson can be the top-five caliber tight end that would make the Lions' offense into a playoff threat.

He has all the physical tools, standing 6-foot-5, to be a matchup nightmare. Despite this, his health has been a concern. As a rookie, he dealt with concussions and an ankle injury. 

Then, after starting all 16 games in 2020, a hand injury ended his third season after 12 games.

Before the injury, however, he was on pace to set new career-highs in every category. Had he played all 16 games, he likely would’ve surpassed the career-best 723 receiving yards he logged in 2020.

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For the Lions to take the next step as an organization, they need Hockenson to remain healthy and keep producing at the high level he has approached in the past. Several playoff teams have tight ends as key components in their passing attack, such as Buffalo with Dawson Knox, Kansas City with Travis Kelce and San Francisco with George Kittle.

Hockenson himself played with Kittle at Iowa, and the two have a strong bond. Heading into the offseason, the Lions’ youngster pledged to spend more time with his Hawkeye counterpart.

“I’m going to work out in Nashville, with George and all those guys,” Hockenson said. “Me going down there every year, I just continue to get better. This year, at the beginning of the year, it was the best I’ve ever felt, best football that I thought I was playing.”

Along with this, he must continue to develop chemistry with incumbent starting quarterback Jared Goff. After struggling to begin the season, the Lions’ signal-caller showed great improvement over the course of the season, and cemented himself as the guy heading into 2022 (at least for the time being). 

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In 11 games with Goff in 2021, Hockenson had 55 receptions for 532 yards and four touchdowns. That bond has to continue to grow for Detroit to continue its upward trajectory.

With the 24-year-old tight end absent for the final stretch of the season, the Lions turned to undrafted free agent Brock Wright as the team’s starter. Wright finished with 12 catches for 117 yards and two scores.

Hockenson’s health will be key going forward, as his on-field production has shown what he can be for the Lions in the future. As a first-round pick just three years ago, how he turns out could be a huge piece in the organization’s story for the next decade.

Rehab update

Hockenson underwent surgery to repair a hand injury following the team’s first win of the season, a 29-27 triumph over the Minnesota Vikings.

Speaking recently with reporters, he shared his feelings about the season ending abruptly.

“Obviously, that’s not how you want to end a season, at any point in your career,” Hockenson said. “Now I’ve had two (injuries), with my ankle and now this. It’s not something that you want to endure and you want to go through.”

He shared that he feels he is getting close to 100 percent health, with hopes of continuing his rehab into the offseason. 

Hockenson feels confident in his ability to continue growing. He’s aided in his development by playing under a former NFL tight end in head coach Dan Campbell.

“Coach Campbell, he played tight end in the league for a long time,” Hockenson said. “Just being able to get his knowledge on some things and what he did well and just kind of trying to take some tidbits from him and continue that just to move forward. He’s done a really good job with me.”

Heading into year four, eyes are on Hockenson to see what he can do. If he’s able to remain healthy, he can potentially become a centerpiece in Detroit’s offense.