“T.J. did some nice things last year, and I think his ceiling is even higher,” new Lions offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn said earlier this month. “I know he made the Pro Bowl and all that, but he can play even better and that was the encouraging part. But I like what I saw on tape. He’s a good football player.”
Hockenson, who finished second on the team with 67 catches, 723 yards and six receiving touchdowns in 2020, likely will be the Lions’ leading returning receiver in 2021.
Marvin Jones and his 76 catches are expected to depart in free agency for a chance to play with a Super Bowl contender, and the futures of Kenny Golladay (a potential recipient of the franchise tag) and Danny Amendola (who hinted at retirement after the season) are uncertain.
Regardless of whether Golladay and/or Amendola return, Hockenson promises to be a major cog in Lynn’s offense.
Hockenson, who was fourth in the NFL in receptions by a tight end last season, should help in both regards. He played more offensive snaps than every returning Lion but offensive linemen Taylor Decker, Frank Ragnow and Jonah Jackson last season, is a willing blocker in the run game and was selected for his first Pro Bowl largely because of his acumen as a pass-catcher.
“(A good tight end) creates a very unique matchup because you have linebackers and safeties covering that guy, and if he’s a stud it’s going to be a long day for you,” Lynn said. “And so if I force you to put a DB on that guy then obviously you have a lighter box and you want to run the football… So not only does he create matchups for you in the passing game, but it also helps you in the run game.”
Lynn has made tight ends a feature part of his offense in the past.
Tight end Charles Clay led the Buffalo Bills with 57 catches in 2016, Lynn’s one season as a play-caller. And Hunter Henry had back-to-back 50-plus-catch seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers in 2019-20, where Lynn was head coach.
As for Hockenson, who turns 24 this summer, Lynn said he expects the No. 8 pick of the 2019 draft to be a similar multipurpose weapon in Detroit.
“I think he can develop into that role, absolutely,” he said.