It’s not that often that the top two prospects at a given position in a draft class both hail from the same school. But that’s the case in 2019, as the top two tight ends both hail from a Big Ten school that’s getting a reputation as “Tight End U.” Iowa’s TJ Hockenson won the Mackey Award as the top tight end in college football after hauling in 49 passes for 760 yards and six touchdowns for the Hawkeyes in 2018. As Dan Kadar reported for SB Nation, NFL Network Draft Analyst paid the 6’5″, 251-pounder quite the complement by comparing Hockenson to Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots—sort of.
“I love Hockenson,” Jeremiah said. “I think he’s the safest player in the draft. And part of the benefit for him in terms of what I gave him and where I ranked him, I did him the day after watching Rob Gronkowski live in person in the playoff game against the Chargers, and I saw Gronk completely dominate a football game without really having to catch the ball. He was just so dominant in the run game.
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”Then I flip on this kid, and he’s not as tall as Gronk, and I don’t compare anybody to Gronk— he’s on a whole different level in terms of what he can do — but I saw this kid with that same temperament and nastiness in the run game and controlling the run game, and then on top of that, he does nothing but get open and catch everything they throw to him.”
Lance Zierlein of NFL.com agrees that Hockenson’s a remarkably well-rounded player who’s equally adept at blocking and catching the rock—comparing him to another superstar tight end in Travis Kelce of the Chiefs.
“In a draft that feels light on high-end talent, Hockenson is an ascending talent with a chance to become one of the best all-around tight ends in the game,” Zierlein said. “He should continue to fill out his athletic frame, but he’s already a sound in-line blocker with the toughness to sustain and finish. His above-average athleticism and separation burst will help him win against linebackers while his body control and hands give him an advantage over safeties. Hockenson has standout talent and fits any scheme, but he could be coveted early by teams looking to delve more heavily in 12-personnel (two TE packages).”
TJ Hockenson is the Most NFL-Ready Tight End in the Class of 2019
Jon Ledyard of the Draft Network, continued the love-fest, writing that Hockenson is easily the most NFL-ready player at his position in this class.
“Other than the fact that he isn’t an e-l-i-t-e athlete, Hockenson basically has everything else you want at the tight end position,” Ledyard said. “He may not be Noah Fant/Evan Engram territory as a pure athlete, but he’s the next best thing. Hockenson can stretch the field against anyone, beat defensive backs in man coverage, embarrass defenders after the catch and smash defensive ends into the opposite C-gap with his leg drive and tenacity. Some football players are just easy to figure out. That’s Hockenson. He’s pro-ready, dynamic and an extreme competitor. He’ll be a top ten overall player on my board and should be a lock to go in Round 1, even at a position that is not typically highly valued.”
For his part, Hockenson said via Kadar that he’s just as happy plowing over a linebacker in the run game as he is catching a pass over the middle. ”I mean, they’re both pretty fun,” Hockenson said. “I mean, honestly, I love to block. I love to run routes. I just really pride myself on doing both. That I can do everything that the job requires as a tight end. That’s what I try to do.”
Tight end might not be a premium position in the NFL draft, but Hockenson’s viewed as a premium prospect—the overwhelming majority of draftniks believe that he won’t make it out of the first round.
Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller offered up a two-part prediction—that the Washington Redskins will swing a draft-day trade for Arizona Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen and then pair Hockenson with him at No. 15.
“In this scenario, Miller said, “the Redskins will be the favorite to land Josh Rosen from the Cardinals for a Day 2 pick package. With Rosen on board, a strong offensive line and 2018 second-round running back Derrius Guice ready to make his debut, the front office can look to upgrade from aging Vernon Davis and oft-injured Jordan Reed at tight end. T.J. Hockenson didn’t run a blazing 40 at the combine, but his all-around game is what head coach Jay Gruden needs. It’s also what Rosen will need to open up the Washington offense.”
Doug Farrar of Touchdown Wire has Hockenson falling a bit farther, but landing in what appears a more preferable fantasy situation with the Tennessee Titans at No. 19.
“Stealing Adam Humphries away from the Patriots in free agency looks like a sneaky-good move for the Titans,” Farrar said, “but this is a team whose offense works best with a top-shelf tight end. That was the case when Delanie Walker was healthy, and now, there’s a need for a future plan. Like Fant, Hockenson didn’t impress statistically with the Hawkeyes, but his tape shows that he’s the best combination of old-school blocking and new-school receiving at his position in this class.”
After watching how often Marcus Mariota targeted Walker, that would work.
No, Hockenson didn’t tear up the track at the combine—he’s not as athletically gifted at teammate Noah Fant. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t athletic. His 4.70 40 time ranked seventh among tight ends. His vertical jump, broad jump and three-cone time trailed only one tight end—Fant. And Hockenson actually beat Fant in the 20-yard shuttle.
In other words, he’s plenty athletic.
Hockenson’s also much closer to being a finished product and an exponentially better blocker than Fant. Blocking skills might not equate to fantasy points. But what they will do is get Hockenson on the field… like now.
Landing spots will matter, but in dynasty fantasy football leagues the Fant vs. Hockenson debate essentially boils down to two things—how much fantasy owners value production in the short-term, and whether they are willing to sacrifice Fant’s potential ceiling for Hockenson’s much higher floor.
In redraft formats, there is no such debate. Where 2019 is concerned, Hockenson’s the No. 1 rookie tight end by a significant margin, and he has the ability and skill-set to do something that’s pretty rare for a young tight end.
Emerge as a viable weekly starter in his first season.
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