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What TJ Hockenson Brings to the Vikings Offense

Hockenson is a top ten receiving TE- something the Vikings haven’t had in years

Kwesi Adofo-Mensah pulled the trigger on another blockbuster, intra-division trade with the Lions before the 2022 NFL trade deadline, acquiring Pro Bowl tight-end T.J. Hockenson. Details of the trade:

Vikings get:

  • TJ Hockenson, a 2023 fourth-round pick and a conditional 2024 fourth-round pick that becomes a fifth-round pick if the Vikings win a playoff game (presumably this season).

Lions get:

  • 2023 second-round pick and a 2024 third-round pick

Overall, that looks like the Vikings got Hockenson for roughly a third-round pick, if you figure the Vikings draft picks will be late in the round, and the Lions’ picks will be very early in the round- at least in 2023. The Vikings will have Hockenson under contract through 2023, as the Lions exercised their 5th-year option on the first-round pick for next season prior to the trade.

Hockenson was the 8th overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft and thought at the time to be one of the most complete tight-ends to come out in years. He played his college ball at Iowa (aka Tight-End U).

Lance Zierlein compared him to Travis Kelce and said this about him pre-draft:

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. 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).

Hockenson’s athletic profile is high-end for the TE position, and compares favorably with Irv Smith Jr.’s, who’s been placed on IR for what could be the rest of the season and his career as a Viking since he’s a free agent at the end of this season:

A Top Ten Tight-End

Tight-ends can be notoriously slow developers once drafted, so the Vikings acquiring Hockenson, already a top ten TE by PFF receiving grade and yards per route run, gives them an immediate upgrade to the position, and also gives them the option to make Hockenson their tight-end of the future if they provide the 25 year-old with a contract extension.

In terms of production, Hockenson’s yards per route run (Y/RR), a key measure of receiving efficiency, is 1.87 so far this season. That ranks 5th among TEs in the league with at least 30 targets. It also ranks second among Vikings’ receivers- behind only Justin Jefferson- with at least seven targets.

Hockenson has also done well against man coverage- an area the Vikings need to improve. He currently has the highest passer rating when targeted against man coverage among all tight-ends in the league with at least ten targets, at 146.6.

Hockenson has also done well so far this season in YAC, or yards after catch according to NextGenStats:

The Vikings have been one of the least productive teams in the NFL when targeting the tight end position this season, and have been on the downswing for the past few seasons as well:

So acquiring Hockenson arguably provides the biggest lift to the position most in need of it, at least on the offensive side of the ball.

A Long-Time Missing Piece

The Vikings have not had a top-ten receiving tight-end for a few decades now, the last being Steve Jordan in the 1980s. Kyle Rudolph was never that, nor was Visanthe Shiancoe before him, nor Irv Smith Jr. or others after Rudolph. And with the evolution of the tight end position, it’s not an ancillary position.

In fact, looking back on Super Bowl winning teams over the past decade or so, having a top ten receiving tight end in Y/RR was about as common as having a top ten quarterback in passer rating. It was also more common than having a top ten wide receiver in Y/RR.

Think about it. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce. Aaron Rodgers had Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams, but it was only when Jermichael Finlay was a top ten TE for the Packers that he won the Super Bowl. In fact, 9 of the last 12 Super Bowl winning teams had a top ten, if not top five, tight end in Y/RR, and every year since 2010 (except this past season) at least one team in the Super Bowl had a top ten TE.

TJ Hockenson Week Four 2022 Highlights

TJ Hockenson 2021 Highlights

TJ Hockenson 2020 Highlights

Bottom Line

The Vikings look to have made a move to address perhaps their weakest link offensively now that the offensive line has been shored-up (Ed Ingram notwithstanding) and may have set themselves up to be strong at TE not only for the remainder of this season, but for several seasons to come as well.


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