T.J. Hockenson is “super excited” to become a Detroit Lion. In turn, the Lions are thrilled to have landed him.
The Iowa tight end was drafted by the Lions in the first round (eighth overall) in the NFL Draft on Thursday night in Nashville.
He had talked with the Lions at the NFL draft combine and throughout the process, but nothing is certain on draft night until the phone rings.
“It was awesome, it was really a dream come true to be in the NFL and to be in such a great program like Detroit,’’ Hockenson said in a conference call to the Detroit media. “Having my family there — my grandfather that’s 92 — just being able to share that moment with all those people. It’s super humbling and I’m super excited for the opportunity I have in front of me.’’
Hockenson, who is 6-5 and 251 pounds, is widely considered the best overall tight end and one of the 10 best overall players in the draft.
Coach Matt Patricia said Hockenson is a guy the Lions had targeted early in the draft process.
“He’s someone who’s going to represent everything we want,’’ Patricia said at the fan draft party. “He’s smart, he’s tough, works hard, gives everything every single play … This is a guy who finishes every single play, he can do the dirty work in the run game, get open in the passing game, put a lot of pressure on the defense. He gives us multiplicity on offense.’’
Patricia loves the way Hockenson finishes his blocks.
“There’s a lot of plays on tape when you’re watching this guy and he’s blocking somebody and all of a sudden you can’t seen him on the tape because he’s got his guy on the sideline, dumping him on the bench,’’ Patricia said. “Just a tenacious guy, a tough guy, a blue-collar hard worker and that’s what we’re all about.”
GM Bob Quinn also was pleased with the pick.
“We felt really, really good about that pick, he’s a guy we targeted early in the process,’’ Quinn said. “Really great player, 3-down, 4-down player that’s going to be a big part of our offense going forward. Really checked every box that we had in terms of the evaluation process from on field to third down to red area to blocking to special teams to culture to intelligence to work ethic. You name it he checked basically every box throughout the process.’’
Since 1997, Hockenson is the 10th tight end drafted from Iowa and the highest a tight end has been drafted across the NFL since Vernon Davis in 2006.
“Coming from the University of Iowa it’s really helped me coming from a pro style offense, being a three-down tight end, being able to hear the call in the huddle and translate it in a split second when you get to the line,’’ Hockenson said. “At the University of Iowa I really wanted to talk to everyone and be able to learn. … I’m going to work hard and do everything I can to learn that playbook and be able to talk to everyone about it.’’
Hockenson fills a need at tight end with not enough production from the position last season. He’ll be another weapon for quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Last season Hockenson led the Hawkeyes in receiving yards (760) and was second in receptions (49) and touchdowns (6). He received the 2018 John Mackey Award as the top tight end in the nation.
“You don’t often find guys coming out of college who can block inline and you can flex them out and they can be as successful blocking as they are running routes and creating after the catch. I think he is one of the more complete football players in this draft and I don’t think you can go wrong with Hockenson,’’ ESPN analyst Todd McShay said in an April conference call.
CBSsports.com’s report on Hockenson said: “Young, dynamic pass-catching option with the athleticism and speed to threaten the seam and make catches well outside his frame. Immense leg churn as a blocker and very accurate finding linebackers in space. Probably needs to add more strength at the next level to control defensive ends at the point of attack, but is arguably the most exciting, new-age tight end to enter the league over the past few drafts.”
Hockenson joins the four other tight ends on the Lions roster — Jesse James, Michael Roberts, Logan Thomas and Jerome Cunningham.
He is the third tight end the Lions have drafted in the first round since they selected Brandon Pettigrew in 2009 (20th overall) and then Eric Ebron in 2014 (10th overall).
The top three picks in the NFL draft were Kyler Murray (Cardinals), Nick Bosa (49ers) and Quinnen Williams (Jets).
Rounds 2-3 will start at 7 p.m. on Friday. The final four rounds of the draft start at noon on Saturday.