Lions Draft TE T.J. Hockenson in 2019 NFL Draft; Matt Patricia Gets His 'Gronk'

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistApril 26, 2019

Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson (38) rushes the ball into the end zone to score during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Indiana Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018, in Bloomington, Ind. Iowa won 42-16. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)
Doug McSchooler/Associated Press

The Detroit Lions selected Iowa Hawkeyes tight end T.J. Hockenson with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft on Thursday. 

Some noted the connection between Lions head coach Matt Patricia, a former New England Patriots assistant, and another dynamic tight end:

Having redshirted the 2016 season, Hockenson only played two years for the Hawkeyes. He appeared in 23 games, catching 73 passes for 1,080 yards and nine touchdowns.

Although those numbers aren't prolific, they deserve additional context. In 2017 and 2018, Iowa ranked 117th (329 yards) and 92nd (375.0 yards) in passing offense. Hockenson also had to share the field with Noah Fant, another top tight end in the 2019 draft class.

Those two factors made it difficult for Hockenson to post gaudy stats.

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Not only did Hockenson get a first-team All-Big Ten nod in 2018, but he also won the John Mackey Award and Ozzie Newsome Award, two honors reserved for the best tight end in college football.

Hockenson checks all of the boxes in terms of what NFL teams look for in a tight end.

He averaged 14.8 yards per catch with the Hawkeyes and was a dynamic target through the air when Nathan Stanley looked his way.

He's a capable blocker as well, which can always be a question mark for tight ends who are elite pass-catchers. This past season, he received a lot of attention for a pancake block on Indiana defensive lineman Michael Ziemba. Hockenson pushed Ziemba backward before driving him into the turf.

Hockenson told reporters last October that improving as a blocker was one of his top priorities heading into 2018: "That's part of playing tight end here. It's part of playing every position on offense here, to be honest. It was something I knew I had to get better at after last year. There was plenty of room to grow. I've focused on it, and I feel like it's paying dividends."

During the 2018 NFL campaign, Kansas City's Travis Kelce briefly set the single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end (1,336) before San Francisco's George Kittle surpassed him (1,377). Of the 20 highest single-season receiving marks by a tight end in the NFL, nine happened within the last 10 years, according to Pro Football Reference.

In time, Hockenson should become a vital part of Detroit's aerial attack.

The Lions signed Jesse James to a four-year, $22.6 million deal, which was a big investment in a tight end with 1,189 receiving yards and nine touchdowns in four years.

Spending a high draft pick on another tight end is a little puzzling, but the Lions might see Hockenson as a bit of a hedge if James proves to be a disappointment. Hockenson is a superior receiver, so he and James don't have vastly overlapping skill sets.

If James struggles in Detroit, then the team already has its contingency plan. Should James flourish, the Lions have a pair of excellent tight ends to further bolster the passing game.

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