Lions Must Get TE T.J. Hockenson More Involved in 2020
In the 2019 NFL Draft, the Lions went against a draft norm, and drafted a tight end in T.J. Hockenson with the No. 8 overall pick.
Only four tight ends have been selected in the top 10 in the last 20 years, with the Lions accounting for two of those selections.
It's fair to say that the tight end position is evolving.
Just look at the tight end talent in the Super Bowl and how big of a role Travis Kelce and George Kittle played in their respective teams' success -- Kelce for the Chiefs and Kittle for the 49ers.
In saying that, you can always get a good gauge on the value of a position by looking at the highest-value contracts.
Tight end is one of the cheaper positions in the NFL.
Overall, a top-10 pick at the tight end spot comes with incredibly high expectations due to the relatively weak positional value.
Yes, Hockenson is a very skilled, well-rounded player; hence, the reason he was so highly rated.
But, the only way to justify selecting a "luxury" position so high is if the player is going to be heavily utilized. After a phenomenal Week 1 performance, Hockenson fell off the map.
Whether it's due to a large learning curve or scheme, Hockenson was not a focal point for the Lions' offense in 2019. That must change in 2020.
Just like with former Detroit tight end Eric Ebron, a talented individual is not going to reach their full potential if they are the fourth option on a team.
Hockenson did end the year on injured reserve, but was the 20th-most targeted tight end in the NFL.
Tough to be productive when targets aren't going your way.
Maybe it's not wise to force feed a rookie tight end.
However, it also probably isn't wise to take a tight end at the top of the draft if he can't play an impactful role immediately.
In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, after Hockenson's Week 1 performance with two receptions on three deep targets, he only had three deep passes go his way the rest of the season -- and none were completed.
While it's true that tight ends aren't always the biggest deep threat on a team, the lack of looks to a 6-foot-5 athlete that is a size mismatch against almost any player covering him is still concerning.
The Lions did use Hockenson out of the slot a fair amount his rookie year as well.
Veteran slot receiver Danny Amendola had a nice season in Detroit, and deserved to see the field, too.
Now, with Amendola a free agent, the slot position is wide open.
There are plenty of prolific tight ends that line up mostly in the slot -- usually ones that don't block well.
One of Hockenson's best attributes coming out of the draft was his blocking ability.
That's not the sole reason he was selected so high, though.
Teams can find blocking tight ends in the later rounds.
His receiving prowess is what was supposed to separate him from the rest of the blocking tight ends.
His quickness and agility for a man his size are elite, too.
Yes, the Lions should still be trying to find a more conventional slot receiver for certain situations. Yet, don't rule out Hockenson seeing an uptick in playing time in a "big slot" role.
Overall, there are plenty of ways to make it happen.
All I know is Hockenson must become a focal point in the Lions' offensive scheme in 2020.