There’s always a silver lining.
The Detroit Lions aren’t predicted to be good in 2021, and those predictions may be true. However, the team will have moments that fans can see as building blocks and positive signs.
The Lions can also count on T.J. Hockenson to shine in 2021.
The big-bodied tight end, who is every bit of 6-foot-5 and 247 pounds, burst out of his shell in his second season in the league. He made 67 catches for 723 yards, and was named to the Pro Bowl for his efforts.
He’s no longer playing with Matthew Stafford, so there may be some growing pains for him as he gets used to new Lions quarterback Jared Goff. However, Hockenson excels in two areas where it will be tough for him to not get the ball.
The first area is the red zone. His size makes him such a problem that he oftentimes can create mismatches near the end zone. Hockenson’s ability to high-point the football and make contested catches helps in this area, as well.
There’s also Hockenson’s ability to make plays over the middle. He is a very solid possession receiver.
Once again, his size causes problems with how he can match up physically with many linebackers, and it becomes very difficult for safeties to fight him for contested catches.
Hockenson is not super fast, and he won’t outrun many defenders. However, his ability to get to zones and run routes is what makes him such a good pass-catcher.
The Iowa product scratched the surface of his potential last season, and is on the verge of breaking out in 2021.
"At the same time, he's going to have fun. He's going to play hard, too. He's a work hard, play hard guy," Detroit tight ends coach Ben Johnson recently told reporters. "I see T.J. Hockenson in that same light. I think those two (Hockenson and Dan Campbell) are going to get along really, really well, because they're cut from the same cloth. T.J., once the snap goes, until the next whistle, in between those white lines, he's going to go hard. The sky is the limit for the kid, and I really look forward to seeing him take that next step."
Many questioned the pick when Hockenson was selected eighth overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. Tight end wasn’t necessarily a position of need, and Hockenson wasn’t considered by some to even be the best at his position, with some seeing his college teammate Noah Fant as the better option.
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However, Hockenson surprised some in his first career NFL game, which came against the Arizona Cardinals. In that one, a 27-27 tie, Hockenson had six catches for 131 yards and a score. After that, things weren’t so good, however.
He spent most of the rest of the season battling injuries, and played just 12 games. The outlook on Hockenson wasn’t so good heading into 2020. Obviously, fans saw his potential, but it was trending toward another failed Lions draft choice.
Hockenson’s performance last year showed this won’t be the case.
He developed strong chemistry with Stafford, who has since moved to greener pastures with the Los Angeles Rams. The man Stafford was traded for -- the aforementioned Goff -- isn’t as good of a passer.
Yet, Hockenson will get open. The route-running abilities and size are what make him so good. It’s hard to miss such a big target.
Additionally, Hockenson was good in the run game as a blocker a season ago. His skills with his feet, such as with his route running, carry over to the blocking side of things. Running back D’Andre Swift can count on Hockenson for downfield support.
The 2021 season may not be everything fans hope for. Yet, they can expect Hockenson to step into the limelight and garner national attention for his performance.
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