There is more to TJ Hockenson’s game beyond what he will add as a receiver.
TJ Hockenson does a lot more than just block and catch. A tight end’s responsibilities span much more than just those two areas of the game of football. Overall, Hockenson’s added value will be much greater to the Detroit Lions than just the amount of touchdowns he scores, or how many yards he puts up. It will come from a variety of areas that aren’t easily seen on the stats sheet.
One area where we will see Hockenson’s added value on film this season will be in creating separation from defenders. This will be especially true for receiving threats out of the backfield, namely Kerryon Johnson after the cut of Theo Riddick.
In most offenses, including the Lions offense last season, the Detroit Lions ran a lot of TE/RB concepts that relied on the running back or tight end creating space for the other. For example, the Jets week one disaster- the pick-six that Stafford threw about midway through the third quarter that completely changed the tide of the game and quite possibly the season.
The tight end ran up the seam to try and take attention away from Theo Riddick on an angle route. However, only the Jets deep safety followed the tight end in zone, meaning no defenders underneath were taken away from Theo Riddick. This allowed Darron Lee to make an easy read and intercept the Stafford pass underneath for six. Hockenson’s added value to the team next year will come in some situations like this. Hockenson running down the middle of the field on a streak route should be able to draw a defender in coverage, and ideally help free up a running back underneath to make an easy reception.
Another way in which Hockenson adds value to the Detroit Lions next season is by doing the same for wide receivers. If Hockenson can attract attention towards the middle of the field, away from the boundary where Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones like to work, this will help them create separation also. Additionally, this will help Danny Amendola in the slot, as the Lions will be able to utilize four receiving targets on a given play.
Open Up The Playbook
In addition to helping other pass catchers create separation, another way we can see Hockenson’s added value play out next season in Detroit will be by allowing Bevell to use a greater variety of concepts effectively. Some concepts rely on a tight end who can run a route effectively knowing where holes in the zone are, or by beating a man in single coverage. These plays should have increased effectiveness with Hockenson next season.
Additionally, with Stafford looking more mobile than ever before at camp so far, play-action passes should be a larger part of the offense. Most play-action concepts have a tight end involved, particularly on roll-out plays where the quarterback rolls out of the pocket, and a tight end comes across the middle on an underneath route. With Hockenson, we should expect these plays to be more effective next season.
One more way we will get to see Hockenson’s added value off the stat sheet next year will be from two or more tight end sets. It’s possible we could see as many as 300 snaps next season with more than one tight end on the field. This allows for variations in formations, sets, and alignments that could be utilized more frequently next season to help curb predictability issues.
Hockenson’s Added Value to the Defense
One more key aspect where we may get to see Hockenson’s added value next season and beyond is on the defensive side of the football. Hockenson will give a linebacker room that has historically struggled covering tight ends (26th in the league in DVOA against last season when covering tight ends per Football Outsiders) extra practice covering a receiving threat at the position. This will be especially helpful to second-round pick Jahlani Tavai.
Additionally, this will help the run defenders on the edge practice going up against a solid run blocker as well. For a team who’s main strength is built on stopping the run, this will prove to be an especially useful tool for Patricia this season. T.J. Hockenson’s added value blocking in running situations is also helpful, but it will be just as beneficial for the defensive side as well.
Finally, it will help the safeties as well. If Hockenson is attacking zones down the seam, the safeties – mainly Quandre Diggs and Tracy Walker – will have to learn how to communicate with each other better during practices and thus create more chemistry between them that should carry over into games. If the Lions back end plays together at a higher level than last season, this can only mean better defense than we saw last year.
Hockenson’s Added Value Goes Beyond Stats!
Overall while many will be watching the score sheet and hoping to see Hockenson put up a good number of touchdowns, make plenty of catches, or get plenty of yards, what Hockenson does for the Detroit Lions next season will be more than those areas. There has been plenty of hype surrounding T.J. Hockenson so far during training camp. He has earned it with solid hands and good routes so far.
However, that won’t be what defines his success year one. If he can block well to open up lanes for Kerryon Johnson, if he can take pressure off of Stafford to make tight-window throws, or help free Kenny Golladay up down the field, that will make Hockenson’s rookie year a success.