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T.J. Hockenson: Your New Dynasty TE1

It certainly didn’t take long for rookie first-round pick T.J. Hockenson to make his presence known in Detroit.

Selected eighth overall in the 2019 NFL Draft, Hockenson was one of the catalysts to Detroit’s offense in Week 1, catching six passes for 131 yards and a touchdown. He led the team in receiving yards and was tied with Kenny Golladay for the second-most targets on the team with nine (Danny Amendola had a whopping 13).

Hockenson certainly looks the part of a future TE1, but how soon will he get there? Is he there now? And just how good could he be?

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The Tools

The unique skill set of the 6’5” Hockenson was on full display in Week 1. Hockenson is a remarkable route runner for his size. He has great balance and light feet, allowing him to make quick cuts that cause instant havoc for any linebacker guarding him. Meanwhile, his height makes him extremely tough to cover for cornerbacks and quarterback Matthew Stafford took advantage of that on Hockenson’s touchdown, finding him in the back of the end zone and lofting a ball to where only Hockenson could get it.

Hockenson also has great hands and a solid catch radius to boot. He’s excellent at catching passes while on the go, giving the offense a lot of flexibility in how to use him. In Week 1, he looked more like a wide receiver than a tight end with some of the plays he was running. He even came out of the backfield like a running back for one of his routes that resulted in a catch and a solid gain.

Hockenson only played two years of college football at Iowa after redshirting his freshman year. During his final collegiate season in 2018, he caught 49 passes for 760 yards and six touchdowns. He also rushed for a touchdown. So he certainly has shown the ability to put up big numbers when he gets high usage, something we don’t always have evidence of for highly-touted tight ends coming into the league.


The System

The Lions have been abundantly clear in their approach to emulate the Patriots’ system in their own. They brought in Bob Quinn from the Patriots’ front office to serve as their general manager, then brought in Matt Patricia from the Patriots’ coaching staff to serve as their head coach. One thing that we certainly know from the past decade of Patriots football is that it breeds fantastic tight end usage and production, enabling Rob Gronkowski to set several all-time records for the position including 17 receiving touchdowns in 2011.

The Lions are in the midst of shifting from the pass-heavy offense featured under the Jim Caldwell reign to a run-heavy offense under Patricia. Instead of seeing Stafford launch deep balls to Marvin Jones every drive, we should be seeing more running plays and more medium-distance throws to Kenny Golladay and Hockenson. Just as the Patriots groomed Gronkowski into a #1 target on offense, the Lions could very much revolve their passing game around Hockenson sooner rather than later.


Dynasty Dream

As veteran fantasy players should know, the tight end position can be a royal headache. If you find yourself outside the Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz inner sanctum, you could easily end up throwing out a prayer week-in and week-out for any production whatsoever at the position.

Hockenson is in an extremely rare position for a tight end. He’s an extremely talented rookie in a tight end-friendly system without another tight end blocking his path toward targets. Plus, he’s already delivered a TE1 fantasy week one week into his career.

In a rookie class that lacks a Saquon Barkley or Christian McCaffrey-like talent, there’s certainly an argument that Hockenson could be the best dynasty asset in the group. Josh Jacobs is probably the only other rookie who has as good or better of an opportunity with little competition for touches at his position on his team. But David Montgomery and Miles Sanders, often the next two highest-ranked rookies in the class after Jacobs, look to have an uphill battle for consistent and significant touches on a weekly basis.

But back to Hockenson vs. Jacobs as the best dynasty asset in the class. Running backs come and go often, like the undrafted Phillip Lindsays and Austin Ekelers of the world. Plus, who’s to say for certain that the Raiders won’t bulk up their backfield next year with a No. 2 running back that threatens Jacobs more than Jalen Richard. Meanwhile, the Lions will be locked into Hockenson as their primary, high-usage tight end for many years to come. And finding a tight end in a situation like that as a rookie, who could be a legit top-3 mainstay at the position for several consecutive years is extremely rare. So if we were redrafting the rookie class in dynasty formats again right now, Hockenson would be my pick ahead of Jacobs.


Redraft Value

As far as Hockenson’s value this season goes, he should certainly be owned in every single league, first off. The path towards a TE1 season is certainly not an arduous one. Trey Burton finished as a fantasy TE1 last year and he only topped 40 receiving yards in three of his 16 games. So not only is a TE1 season in reach for Hockenson this year, it’s very likely.

Outside of the top five or six at the position, the race to fill up the TE1 tier is wide open and Hockenson is going to be one of the top competitors in snatching one of those open spots. So I’d still rank him behind Kelce, Ertz, George Kittle, Evan Engram and O.J. Howard for sure. Then I’d probably keep Hunter Henry in that sixth spot for now. But after that, Hockenson’s my guy, followed by Delanie Walker, Jared Cook and Darren Waller.

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