Detroit Lions camp: Rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson impressive early

ALLEN PARK — Tight end T.J. Hockenson’s catches deep in the corner of the end zone have been among the highlights during the first two days of Detroit Lions training camp.

Even his teammates appreciate it — hooting and hollering for the rookie each time he brings in a ball thrown by Matthew Stafford.

The first-round pick takes his early stand-out plays in stride.

“We’re all just trying to have fun out here. I’m just trying to have fun playing the game I love, being able to do it with these guys means a lot,’’ Hockenson said. “This group of veterans has taken you in really well, they’ve accepted me as part of this team and I’m super excited to get started.’’

If the first two days of camp are any indication, this could be a very tight-end friendly offense under new coordinator Darrell Bevell.

Hockenson doesn’t put more pressure on himself because he’s a first-round pick. Like each and every one of the Lions he repeats the mantra that he just wants to get better every day.

“He knows that he has a lot to earn and he’s got a long way to go, but he is a hard worker. He loves the game. The guy’s got a great attitude, the guy just loves the grind and the passion of the game,’’ coach Matt Patricia said. “So, you take it, you work with it, you go forward, and he’s got a skill set that hopefully we got to see out on the field. He’s got to go out there and do it consistently and do it every single day.”

Hockenson, who is 6-foot-5, is one six tight ends on the camp roster. All of them are new to the Lions this season, although Logan Thomas (6-foot-6) and Jesse James (6-foot-7) bring years of NFL experience. 

“It’s competition in camp, we have such a great tight end room. Logan and everyone in that group has been great, they’ve accepted us they’ve done everything that I can ask,’’ Hockenson said. “They’ve taught us things that a rookie wouldn’t normally see. It’s nice to be with that group of guys.’’

Hockenson repeatedly mentioned how the intelligence level is so much higher than it was in college (Iowa).

“The defense can see a formation one time and know the play. You have to be smarter than the 10-year vet that is in front of you,’’ Hockenson said. “Being a rookie you have to come in and study and work at it, that’s what we’re all trying to do, that’s what I’m trying to do.’’

Tight end is traditionally one of the hardest positions to learn as a rookie requiring that they know how to catch and also block for the run game. Hockenson said it’s all a challenge.

“It’s the next level. Everything is faster, everything is more dynamic, everyone is smarter, it’s different,’’ Hockenson said. “I’m coming to work every day trying to take that next step and get better every single day.’’

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Detroit Lions GM Bob Quinn follows draft board not the advice of fans, media

Quinn wants what the fans want

Bob Quinn doesn’t let fan expectations or sentiment drive his draft decisions.

That shouldn’t even be questioned. He has worked all his professional life to learn the draft process.

The Lions general manager just completed his fourth draft weekend in Detroit.

On Day 3 of the draft Saturday he added three players on defense and three on offense. He was all smiles taking the podium afterward.

“Good mix of skill guys and big guys – felt like good value. Kind of made that one trade with Atlanta, moved back a couple spots, thought that was good business to acquire that other pick for really just moving down six spots, I think. I thought it was a good day,’’ Quinn said.

And it wasn’t just a good day.

“Thought it was a really good weekend for us overall as a team, got the team better,’’ Quinn added.

T.J. Hockenson, his first-round pick, filled a need at tight end and seemed to go over well.

It was the second-round pick, linebacker Jahlani Tavai, who raised a few eyebrows.

Why? Because he was not deemed second-round worthy by many NFL draft analysts and fans. That led to hand-wringing and deep sighs from many fans and short-sighted media members who thought they knew better. Ask them, they’d give you a list of players they preferred with that pick.

Tavai wasn’t as well known, in part because he played at Hawaii.

Will he be a Pro Bowl player? Maybe. It’s too early to know. No guarantees on his future.

None of this matters to Quinn. He took Tavai because he followed the Lions’ draft board which was created over the past 12 months.

With all due respect to fans, media, Mel Kiper, Todd McShay and other NFL draft analysts, Quinn knows the Lions’ needs and wants better than any one.

His first three drafts yielded good results. A year ago he made six picks and the five that stayed healthy made significant contributions to the season. His top six selections in 2017 are starters or regular players and in 2016 he drafted Taylor Decker, A’Shawn Robinson and Graham Glasgow with his first three picks. All are starters.

Quinn has proven that he can draft. With each draft he gets closer to the roster that he desires.

Still his pick of Tavai was roundly criticized.

The GM, who learned his craft while with the Patriots, won’t lose sleep over the criticism.

‘If I worry about what other people think, I’ll be up all night. Trust me. I respect the question. I really do and I understand it. But if we go into this process being scared about what other people think about our team and our evaluations, then we’ve got a long way to go,’’ Quinn said.

“We’re convicted on the guys we take. Are we going to be right 100 percent of the time? No, no team is. But I think we do a tremendous amount of work. And this is a 12-month process for us and this is something that is the lifeline of this organization in terms of players. So, I feel very confident about the evaluations and the guys we took this weekend, and also some of the rookie free agents we’re working on now,’’ he added.

Quinn wants exactly what the fans want — a team that can win in the playoffs.

Is that so hard to understand?

Let’s watch Tavai and the other picks on game days. That’s the only way to judge the draft.

Five things to know about Detroit Lions first-round pick T.J. Hockenson

Iowa tight end likes Disney, golf and football

ALLEN PARK — T.J. Hockenson was introduced to Detroit Lions fans on Friday.

The tight end from Iowa was the eighth overall pick in the NFL draft on Thursday night in Nashville. He and his parents flew to Detroit on Friday and were welcomed into the Lions practice facility.

“We’re very excited about the addition of T.J. When the opportunity came up last night in the draft, he’s somebody we targeted, somebody we knew would be a great fit in our organization, we’re thrilled to have him and his mom and dad here to celebrate just a tremendous achievement but also a beginning and the next phase of what’s going to be a great career,’’ coach Matt Patricia said in his introduction.

The coach said it was a perfect match. They were excited when he was not selected early but didn’t want to get too excited.

Five things to know about Hockenson:

1. The 21-year-old tight end was not heavily recruited out of Chariton but Iowa and Iowa State came calling. “Being from Iowa and being from a small town, growing up and watching coach (Kirk) Ferentz there, I was excited to be a Hawkeye,’’ Hockenson said.

2. At 6-foot-5, he was just 220 when he arrived at Iowa which was way under-sized for a Big Ten tight end. He redshirted his first season. He tips the scales at 250 now. He credits the coaches at Iowa with giving him all the tools he needed to gain weight and strength. “It comes down not only working hard, but having the right tools to do it,’’ said Hockenson who only played two full seasons for the Hawkeyes. Those early practices when he weighed 220 certainly toughened him up. “They’ll definitely get you tougher that’s for sure, they were fun,’’ Hockenson said. “You just have to play the game. When you get knocked down you’ve got to get back up and go back at it and go as hard as you can.’’

3. He’s excited to get going but has to wait a few weeks for rookie minicamp. He’s had a chance to talk with quarterback Matthew Stafford. “I’m excited, he’s such a great quarterback and he’s a great person, just being able to talk to him today, just learning who he is as a person and how genuine he is, I’m excited about learning the game from him and see how he sees it,’’ Hockenson said. “Like I said I’m going to try to be a sponge and figure this thing out.’’

4. It will be a big change coming from Chariton, Iowa, which has a population of 4,122. “It’s cool, the entire community has come together. Last night they had a draft party and able to get a lot of pictures and phone calls,’’ Hockenson said. “I literally think I have 600 text messages right now. I don’t know what I’m going to do I’ll spend next week (going) through them. I’m excited, they’re so excited, they’re happy. I’ve loved my time in Chariton. It’s put me where I needed to be from a small town, I always know I’ll have those people.’’

5. Away from football, he enjoys playing golf and being outdoors. He was pleased and surprised to learn the Lions have a par-3 hole behind their practice fields. He’s also a big Disney fan. He was wearing “Lion King” socks on Thursday night at the draft and his dog is named Lilo from the Disney movie, “Lilo and Stitch.” He’s been to Disney properties a few times. “It’s the best place on Earth,’’ Hockenson said.

UPDATED: Lions select tight end T.J. Hockenson in first round of NFL draft

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.

 

 

TE T.J. Hockenson makes sense for Detroit Lions in first round, per Todd McShay

First-round TEs haven’t always worked out so well

Drafting tight ends in the first round is not exactly on the Lions’ list of top achievements in recent years.

Brandon Pettigrew, first-round pick in 2009 (20th overall), and Eric Ebron, the 10th overall pick in 2014, immediately come to mind.

Still there’s a chance the Lions could turn to a tight end with the eighth overall pick three weeks from now.

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay has the Lions drafting Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson in the first round in his 4.0 mock draft.

He is well aware of need at defensive end, but he can’t overlook the Hockenson’s talent.

“I considered it. I gave Jaylon Ferguson (Louisiana Tech) to Detroit at 43, I recognize the need,’’ McShay said in a Tuesday conference call. “I just think T.J. is one of the 10 best players in the draft. I know they haven’t had the greatest success drafting tight ends early with Pettigrew and Ebron.’’

Hockenson, who is 6-5 and 251 pounds, is widely considered the best overall tight end and one of the best overall players in the draft.

“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,’’ McShay said.  

Last season in 13 games, Hockenson had 24 catches for 320 yards and three touchdowns.

“I think if developed properly Ferguson has a chance to be a really good player,”” McShay said.

He looked at the combination of picks in making the decision to go with Hockenson. He said there’s quite a drop-off in tight end talent between first and second rounds and less of a drop-off at defensive end.

The NFL draft starts on Thursday, April 25. The Lions have nine picks — one in each of the first five rounds with two in the sixth and seventh rounds.