Rookie tight ends rarely produce starting fantasy value right away in the NFL, but T.J. Hockenson flashed with some massive weeks throughout his rookie season in Detroit. Hockenson’s college stats weren’t incredibly impressive – he finished his two seasons at Iowa with 73 receptions for 1,080 yards and nine touchdowns in 23 games. However, his measurables fly off the board, and he has tons of untapped athletic upside. Will that translate to fantasy success in his sophomore campaign for the Lions this season?
TJ Hockenson showing you why he was the 8th overall pick! @TheeHOCK8
— NFL (@NFL) August 24, 2019
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Hockenson only played in twelve games in 2019, filling the role of the starting tight end in seven of them. He was the best tight end on the roster, but he only finished the season with a 48.7% snap share. The former Iowa tight end only went over 50 yards twice, but he did finish with 3+ receptions on seven different occasions. His season ended with a gruesome ankle injury in Week 13 on Thanksgiving Day, from which Hockenson is still recovering. Hockenson’s 75th percentile SPARQ score and 4.7-second 40-yard-dash time set him up nicely for success in 2020.
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I’m expecting a pretty significant sophomore breakout season for Hockenson. The Lions’ offense was potent during the first eight weeks of the season before Matthew Stafford had his season-ending injury. Darrell Bevell is back as the offensive coordinator, and he has a lengthy history of featuring his tight ends in the passing game. Hockenson should see at least 90 targets if he plays a full 16-game slate – he was already on pace for 79 last season. The numbers I have him down for would make him the TE12 in PPR leagues in my season-long projections, but there’s plenty of room for him to improve from there.
I tried to tell you guys that TJ Hockenson looked like the real deal coming out of Iowa. Dude balled out in his debut last night.
And a HUGE block on the Amendola TD
— Tony Dombrowski (@tonydombrowski) September 9, 2019
ADP: 132.5, TE18
Auction Value: $6
I’m honestly pretty stunned by how low Hockenson’s draft price is at the moment. I get that he didn’t produce as a rookie, but the list of rookie tight ends who were relevant for fantasy is not long at all. Hockenson has a first-round pedigree and is guaranteed snaps as likely the #2 passing weapon for the Lions after Kenny Golladay. One of my favorite draft strategies at tight end is to hold off until late and grab a couple of high-upside options. Last season, I had both Mark Andrews and Darren Waller on a lot of teams. If you can wait until the previous handful of rounds and snag Hockenson along with Tyler Higbee, Jonnu Smith, Ian Thomas, or Hayden Hurst (all of whom I have in the top-12 at TE), it’s unlikely I’ll be spending up on Travis Kelce or George Kittle this season.
T.J. Hockenson’s 16-game pace from last season would have gotten him to about 43 receptions for 490 yards and three touchdowns. Those aren’t impressive numbers at all, but they still would have been solid enough to make him the TE16 last season. I find it hard to believe that Hockenson doesn’t build on his 54.2% catch rate as a second-year pro, especially with a (hopefully) full season from Matthew Stafford. The Lions do have plenty of pass-catching weapons outside of Hockenson between Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Danny Amendola. Still, Hockenson was a first-round pick for a reason and should be able to build on a solid rookie campaign. I believe his baseline is a top-15 tight end, but he has plenty of upsides as well.
I originally had Hockenson down for over 100 targets, but I reduced that number a little bit after the Lions improved their defense in free agency in the draft. If their defense and run game are developed, the team may not need to have the same passing volume as in years past, but 100 targets are still in the potential range of outcomes. If Hockenson gets to that mark, he could finish the season with 60+ catches and 800+ receptions. He only scored two touchdowns in his 12 games as a rookie, but he had seven red-zone targets and could realistically end up with seven or eight touchdowns this season. All that said, a top-five fantasy finish at the tight end position is certainly a possibility for Hockenson. With his athletic ability, featured role in the offense, and improved consistency with Stafford playing a full season, Hockenson has crazy amounts of upside this year.
— NFL (@NFL) September 29, 2019
Detroit Lions Offense
Matthew Stafford was on pace for 5,000 passing yards with 38 touchdowns and ten interceptions, close to reaching or surpassing career-highs across the board before a broken back kept him out of the second half of the season. That’s partially a credit to Darrell Bevell, who had previously coached top-10 scoring offenses for the Vikings and Seahawks. Stafford’s injury didn’t hamper Kenny Golladay too much as the 3rd-year receiver broke through with 65 receptions for 1,190 yards and 11 touchdowns. Marvin Jones put together another productive campaign with 62 receptions for 779 yards and nine touchdowns – he’s consistently under-appreciated among receivers around the NFL. Danny Amendola also had 62 receptions – he went for 678 yards but just one touchdown. The running back duo of Kerryon Johnson and D’Andre Swift will likely be involved in the passing game, as well.
Strength of Schedule
The Lions play in the NFC North, home to the Packers, Bears, and Vikings. Thanks to the elite safety duo of Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris, the Vikings ranked 7th in fantasy points allowed to the tight end position. The Packers (18th) and Bears (24th) were in the bottom half of the league in that regard. The Lions also take on the entire NFC South division, which had a mixed level of tight end defenses. The Panthers ranked 4th in fantasy points allowed to TEs, but their defense is expected to deteriorate after their offseason losses. The Saints (10th) and Falcons (16th) were above average in this regard, while the Buccaneers (26th) were much worse. The NFC South is home to some elite offensive play, which means the Lions could be involved in more shootout-style game scripts. The Lions play the AFC South as well, which holds four teams who were outside the top 12 in fantasy points allowed to TEs in the Jaguars (13th), Colts (17th), Texans (22nd), and Titans (27th). As the worst team in the NFC North, the Lions take on the other three bottom feeders in the NFC, which includes the Redskins (29th) and Cardinals (32nd), two of the worst defenses against tight ends last season. It’s worth noting that the Cardinals are expected to significantly improve in that regard after drafting Isaiah Simmons in the first round. Overall, the Lions’ schedule opens up nicely for T.J. Hockenson to succeed this season.
— Daniel Dopp (@DanielDopp) April 26, 2019
After the Lions spent a first-round pick on T.J. Hockenson, he came into the NFL with some high expectations. His rookie season left a lot to be desired, but his athletic profile and guaranteed role in a high-scoring offense suggest that he could explode in his sophomore campaign. Hockenson’s draft price is inspiring at the moment, as he has tons of opportunities to outperform that range. I believe Hockenson’s baseline is as a top-12 tight end, and he has top-5 upside.