Our NFL rookie profile series continues with this analysis of 2019 NFL Draft Prospect TJ Hockenson, TE of Iowa. You can also check out all of our NFL Draft Prospect articles here. We will continue to provide you with these in-depth rookie profiles and a ton of other fantasy football rookie analysis right up through the NFL Draft. Stay tuned, and stay ahead of your league!
Heading into the 2018 season, the devy community had its eyes fixed on just one tight end — Noah Fant. However, just a few weeks in, it became clear that the 2019 tight end class would be much deeper, and one wouldn’t even have to look past Fant’s team for proof. Fellow Iowa Hawkeye TJ Hockenson quickly made a name for himself in 2018, producing amazingly strong numbers for a collegiate tight end splitting touches with another first-round tight end prospect.
Heading into peak draft season, the draft community has gotten acquainted with Hockenson. Now, the lazy narratives have settled into saying that Fant is the receiver and Hockenson the blocker. But, with a closer look, Hockenson brings plenty to the table for fantasy purposes as well.
Statistics from sports-reference.com.
Splitting time with both Fant and George Kittle, Hockenson saw his first action in 2017, following a redshirt year in 2016. With both those mouths to feed and in an offense that had under 2,500 passing yards to its name on the season, Hockenson still managed to rack up over 300 yards in his debut year. The middle of the season saw his best performance, where he caught five passes for 71 yards and two touchdowns in a dominant upset against Ohio State.
After the season, Kittle entered the NFL (and promptly took it by storm), leaving Fant and Hockenson to lead the tight end corps. With the added looks, Hockenson produced over 750 yards and scored seven touchdowns — including a score on the ground. Altogether, Hockenson was the Hawkeyes’ leader in receiving yardage by over 200 yards — far more than Fant or any receiver. He also led the team in yards per target for players with over five targets on the season.
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On the field, Hockenson has become a household name largely through his blocking prowess. Indeed, the 251-pounder can bury his opponents. Plus, beyond the highlights, Hockenson consistently gets the job done.
Perhaps his greatest asset in the blocking department is his attitude. Despite looking relatively undersized on tape, Hockenson is fearless when assigned to bigger defensive linemen. In turn, he routinely establishes dominant leverage through a low pad level. From that point, he puts in the effort to keep his legs driving and gradually push his man downfield. Most tight ends have trouble when punching 30-plus pounds above their weight, but Hockenson can usually hold his own. As for the easier tight end blocking assignments, Hockenson is good at keeping defenders from leaking through when blocking the backside, and he uses similarly strong pad level to drive second-level defenders.
For most tight ends, reaching adequate blocking ability is a struggle that takes years to achieve. As a result, tight ends tend to have quite slow progression cycles in the NFL, often taking years to earn a full-time role in an offense. However, Hockenson’s adjustment period should be minimal — which means he’ll provide owners with value much more quickly than other tight ends, and that he’s a relatively safe prospect overall.
In the receiving game, Hockenson similarly checks all the boxes. He has more than enough functional athleticism, allowing him to separate from linebackers and reach soft spots in zones quickly. His route running acumen is impressive for a redshirt sophomore, meaning he knows how to use that footwork to his benefit.
At the catch point, Hockenson handles contact well — one of the most important traits I look for in a tight end. From some glimpses, he has an above-average catch radius, with the proven ability to extend his arms away from his frame and haul passes in. For a tight end, he surprisingly strong at tracking and catching throws over his shoulder.
Altogether, Hockenson really doesn’t have many actual weaknesses. If I had to choose one, he’s not the strongest, and his good-not-great athleticism caps his receiving ceiling in a way that someone like Fant doesn’t suffer from. Even then, Hockenson’s still quicker and more agile than most tight end prospects.
Hockenson looks to have the physical profile of a move tight end: Uniformly good-to-great athletic testing, with below-average weight and length. However, Hockenson’s competitive toughness and technical mastery allow him to be a functional blocker where most smaller tight ends can’t. While it doesn’t mean much for him in the receiving game, it does mean that, again, he should be more reliable to see the field.
Hockenson has a lot going for him. He tested quite well athletically. He put up great receiving numbers in college, despite challenging circumstances, and his tape shows why. He’s not big, but he makes up for it with effort and attention to detail. Altogether, he’s just about as safe as a tight end can get. Furthermore, he should start producing as quickly as anyone at his position.
On the other hand, I have one reservation. As mentioned before, none of his quickness, speed, or agility are excellent. While he has more than enough to get the job done, he still doesn’t project to be a Travis Kelce-esque matchup nightmare, especially given that he’s relatively undersized.
This puts a strong ceiling on his production potential. It’s hard to see him putting numbers up like Kelce or Zach Ertz. In turn, I don’t expect him to provide as much positional advantage as someone like Fant potentially could. Thus, I can’t really stand by calling him a dynasty stud, like I may do for Fant.
Still, at the end of the day, Hockenson checks and exceeds all the standard boxes, is pretty safe, and should produce quickly. While his ceiling exists, it’s still pretty high, and so is his floor. He currently stands as DLF’s 14th-ranked rookie, and second-ranked tight end, while he was taken the 12th highest in DLF’s latest set of rookie ADP.
TJ Hockenson has a rare prospect profile. Because tight ends effectively have to master the technique of both offensive tackles and wide receivers, it takes much longer for them to develop. However, after spending just three years in college, Hockenson has no below-average skills. Once eligible, he started producing immediately, despite playing in a crowded tight end group. Although he’s undersized, Hockenson is the best run blocker in this tight end draft class.
As mentioned already, Hockenson offers owners confidence and quick production at tight end — a rare proposition. But, his ceiling isn’t quite as high as others. For that reason, Hockenson slots in as a middle second-round pick for me in a packed dynasty rookie class, a half-round lower than Fant. While Hockenson may not offer the most positional advantage potential, he’s a terrific option for any owner in need of a tight end this offseason.
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