Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson hasn't had the greatest start to his fourth season in the NFL.
Through three games this year, Hockenson, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, has recorded just 82 reception yards, to go along with a career-low 8.2 yards per catch and 27.3 yards per game.
Additionally, he's amassed a near career-worst catch percentage of 55.6 percent. The only time in which he's caught less of his passes was his rookie campaign (54.2 percent).
Despite the slow start this year, Hockenson remains confident in his abilities and focused on helping Detroit win games.
"I want to help, and I know what I can do," the 2020 Pro Bowl tight end told reporters Thursday. "Everyone in this locker room knows what I can do. And so, to have guys behind me that are wondering what's happening be like, 'Hey, all good.' That kind of thing means a lot to me. And, it just really shows your teammates have your back, and that's kind of what you look for as a team. That's a winning team."
To Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, the reason for Hockenson's decrease in production has been the increase in competition for targets from Detroit signal-caller Jared Goff.
Unlike in past years, the team now has a myriad of capable pass-catchers, including offseason acquisition DJ Chark, second-year pro Amon-Ra St. Brown and star running back D'Andre Swift.
"I’m sure he was hoping to have a little more targets, some more catches so far this season. But, as I’ve explained to the whole unit, we have a lot of weapons in that room right now," Johnson expressed. "Some weeks, some guys may get 10 catches and 100-plus yards and multiple touchdowns. Other weeks, that same guy might get two targets and 16 yards. That’s the way this thing goes. It’s not like we’re deliberately going in each week and not trying to get him the football. Each guy, they have their plays, whether the defense allows us to take those or we have to keep progressing. The quarterback’s going to take what the defense gives him."
According to Johnson, Hockenson hasn't let the slow start get the best of him.
"I think he’s handled it really well," Johnson said. "I mean, you’d have to ask him exactly what’s going on in his mind. But, from my perspective, he has practiced as well as I’ve seen him practice since his rookie year. He’s taken full advantage of any time he has out on the field, special teams, he’s getting more work with the quarterbacks. So, I just know when those opportunities present themselves, he’s going to be ready.”
Although the increase in talent among the team's pass-catchers is the most likely reason for Hockenson's decline in productivity in 2022, there could be another factor at play: the Iowa product's failure to secure a contract extension this past offseason.
While the Lions did pick up the fifth-year option on Hockenson's rookie contract, he never got close to inking a long-term pact with the franchise over the offseason.
The Iowa native expressed Thursday that he isn't sweating the lack of a long-term deal, though, and is instead focused on making plays for Johnson's offense.
"I've proven I can be a receiver. I've proven that, you know, when my number is called, I'll make a play," Hockenson said. "So, I'm not really worried about that in any instance. I'm just trying to make an impact on this team, make sure we win, because there's no doubt about it, when a winning organization comes along, they'll keep players around, and they'll give them what they want.
"I'm not really focused on that, by any means. I'm just trying to take it play by play and day by day. Doing my job is what's going to help me in that direction. That's kind of what I'm looking at."
With Detroit sitting at 1-2 and in last place in the NFC North heading into Sunday's contest with the Seattle Seahawks, there might not be a better time than now for Hockenson to turn around his season. It's especially the case when you consider the fact that the Lions will be potentially without both St. Brown and Swift this week.
It could lead to an increase in responsibilities for the veteran tight end in the Week 4 matchup.
"That's something, you know, I'm ready for (and) I've been ready for the last few years. I mean, last year I was when my number was called," Hockenson said. "And, this year, I've been making plays when it's called. So, that's really what I'm taking it as, is kind of play by play, day by day. And making sure I'm showing what I can do out here in practice and showing what I can do in gamedays, and making sure that the quarterback and everybody around knows when I'm open."