If you know me, you know that I hate tight ends for fantasy football. Outside of a handful of guys, all tight ends are good for is heartache and regret. There is one second-year player that I have been curious about. Drafted with the eighth overall pick in the 2019 NFL, T.J. Hockenson is having a great second year in fantasy. Hockenson is currently the TE3 on the season in PPR. Really though, how good is T.J. Hockenson?
On the surface, you might be wondering why this even needs to be a conversation. In every major statistical category, T.J. Hockenson is top-five or better. Hockenson is fifth in targets, fourth in receptions, third in yards, and fifth in touchdowns. It is not hard to see why he has been a premier tight end in fantasy football. The problem is, if anything, Hockenson is not doing nearly as well as he should be.
T.J. Hockenson’s advanced stats tell a very interesting story. Hockenson’s yards before the catch rank as the ninth-highest among tight ends, but his YBC per reception ranks fifteenth. The Lions are not really sending Hockenson down the field. His average depth of target is eleventh among tight ends, which is not that good a number. It makes less sense when you consider that he is a match-up nightmare.
Hockenson is bigger, stronger, and faster than just about any defender you use to defend him. Hockenson also excels at using his size to box out defenders. Which makes it all the more baffling that the Lions just have Hockenson running a very basic route tree. They appear to want him to just make up the yards. If this was Patricia’s mindset in using him, I guess it has worked out, even if it is a dumb strategy. T.J. Hockenson ranks third in yards after catch among tight ends, and he ranks second in YAC per reception. He also has the third most receiving first downs of any tight end. When Hockenson has the ball in his hands, it is clear that he is very hard to bring down.
Advanced stats are all well and good, but tight ends make their money in the red zone. Here, it is honestly difficult to figure out what the Lions are doing. In 40 red zone passing attempts, 13 of their targets have gone to Hockenson. Since week nine, Hockenson doesn’t have a single red-zone target. While Hockenson has one of the worst catch rates in the red zone of top tight ends, reviewing the tape shows that everything he didn’t catch was either because of good coverage or Matthew Stafford deciding to throw to a defender in the end zone.
Truth be told, I came into this article expecting to love T.J. Hockenson. What I did not expect was how much I would walk away hating the Detroit Lions. With the tape I watched, every time T.J. Hockenson was involved in the passing game, it felt like there was a different energy on the field. An energy Lions fans might not be used to because it gave you hope. Then the Lions would immediately decide that they weren’t getting Danny Amendola the ball enough.
T.J. Hockenson is only on the field for 71% of the team’s snaps, which puts his snap count just above Robert Tonyan and Jimmy Graham. The best way I can describe the Lions use of T.J. Hockenson is that they bought themselves a Ferrari, but they only want to use it as a commuter vehicle. He might be better than his numbers indicate, but because he plays for the Lions, we might never see his full potential.