About 48 hours ago, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah made another intra-division transaction trading for Lions’ Tight End TJ Hockenson. The 25-year-old cost a 2023 second rounder and a 2024 third rounder, with the Vikings receiving a 2023 fourth rounder along with a conditional 2024 fourth rounder. In control of the 2nd seed in the NFC and a strong 6-1 start, adding a talent like Hockenson could help push the Vikings over the top. I’ll cover what the Vikings are getting in Hockenson, how he fits in Kevin O’Connell’s offense, and his impact on roster construction.
TJ Through the Numbers
After a solid sophomore campaign of 49 receptions, 760 yards, and 6 TDs, Hockenson followed in the footsteps of previous Iowa TEs and declared for the draft. The Lions selected Hockenson 8th overall, notably high for the TE position. Hockenson showed promise early in 7 starts, scoring twice and racking up 367 yards on 32 catches. So far this season, Hockenson has continued progressing and is playing at a near-elite level. Here’s where he ranks across a variety of stats:
TJ Hockenson by the numbers pic.twitter.com/ESkbFuse3b— Spencer Thompson (@ThompsonNFL) November 3, 2022
Just for the sake of comparison, here is Hockenson side-by-side with Irv Smith:
Just a little upgrade at Tight End. Just a small one, no big deal. pic.twitter.com/grhpP3URjc— Spencer Thompson (@ThompsonNFL) November 3, 2022
Suited for the Vikings Run Game
Starting off with Hockenson in the run game as a blocker, he is extremely capable due to his size, strength, athleticism, and willingness. While he hasn’t graded out favorably with PFF as a run blocker, that shouldn’t concern the Vikings for a couple reasons. Hockenson struggles with inconsistency as a run blocker, something that can still be ironed out. More importantly though, the Lions ran far less zone runs than the Vikings. At Iowa, Hockenson played in a zone offense, his familiarity combined with his skill set being better suited for zone based blocking schemes is evident in how he’s graded out on gap rushes vs zone rushes.
TJ Hockenson has not graded well as a run blocker — but that's largely driven by an extreme split between his grade on zone runs and his grade on man runs.— Nick Olson (@NickOlsonNFL) November 3, 2022
There is value to unlock by switching him from Detroit's gap-heavy scheme to Minnesota's zone-heavy scheme: pic.twitter.com/YtuMcqiwWf
As Nick found, Hockenson has a consistently solid rushing grade on zone plays throughout his career. For this reason, it’s fair to assume Hockenson will be better as a run blocker in Minnesota.
I found a couple clips that showcase Hockenson’s aforementioned skill set and versatility. Starting with a clip against Cowboys Defensive End Demarcus Lawrence.
Hockenson bullying Demarcus Lawrence on zone. Impressive footwork, core strength, and leverage to keep inside shoulder positioning while climbing diagonally. pic.twitter.com/sPwAIjdMqd— Spencer Thompson (@ThompsonNFL) November 3, 2022
Hockenson is working backside on an outside zone run against Lawrence and flat out dominates him. He’s able to maintain his leverage while getting push and working laterally, demonstrating his core strength, footwork, and technique. He will be asked to block or cutoff backside DEs one on one a ton under Kevin O’Connell, something that he should excel at.
Next is an older clip of Hockenson as the lead blocker on an iso or duo run where he displays his versatility.
Hockenson lead blocking pic.twitter.com/vyXmCge6gb— Spencer Thompson (@ThompsonNFL) November 3, 2022
Hockenson pulls a gap inside to take the strong side linebacker head on in the hole. He’s inviting of the contact and does a decent job at absorbing the initial impact from the linebacker. This was from his rookie year, which would explain why he seems a little surprised by the contact. Everything leading up to contact being made is great, his pull, finding the backer, and setting up the block with a solid base, low pad level, and taking the inside half of the defender. Hockenson’s ability to lead block as a tight end adds another layer to the Vikings offense.
Another transferrable play, this time a backside cut block on a split zone run against the Vikings.
Hockenson backside cut block on Harrison Smith pic.twitter.com/pq3ggsFJT0— Spencer Thompson (@ThompsonNFL) November 3, 2022
Harrison Smith has made an insane amount of tackles on plays like this, where he uses his athleticism to chase down the play from the backside. Here, Hockenson neutralizes the Hitman with a nearly flawless cut block. The athleticism and mental processing required to come across the formation and cut Harrison Smith with a headstart is not commonly possessed. Kevin O’Connell uses motions, shifts, and other things like split or sift blocks to create controlled chaos, Hockenson’s ability to make difficult blocks builds on that foundational aspect of the Vikings Offense.
Feared vs Respected
The Vikings offense is good. They have an elite receiver and running back, a borderline top 10 quarterback, and a couple nice supporting pieces. That is enough to be respected, but Hockenson could potentially instill fear in opposing defenses.
Hockenson’s dynamic receiving ability, mainly his YAC, has lead to him having 11 receptions of 20 or more yards this year. Outside of Justin Jefferson, the Vikings have only 3 such plays between KJ Osborn and Adam Thielen. Additionally, Kirk Cousins has been one of the least effective quarterbacks when targeting Tight Ends. Adding Hockenson is a sure fire way to improve in this department.
A truly good TE is going to open up the offense so much pic.twitter.com/XyWzt2D9mR— Tanishka ♀️ (@taanishkaaa) November 2, 2022
The Vikings have faced more man coverage this year, especially on 2nd/3rd and long situations where they rank 3rd in most man coverage faced. KJ Osborn and Adam Thielen are able to punish defenses if they devote resources to stopping JJ, but Hockenson creates new problems. If a defense tries putting a linebacker on Hockenson in man coverage, he is athletic enough and skilled enough as a route runner to win.
If a team wants to put a safety on Hockenson, he is a big-bodied, physical player that can punish smaller defenders. Here he uses his size and physicality to beat a defensive back in the redzone:
Hock winning on an out route through contact in the redzone against Man coverage pic.twitter.com/htp54wrNiZ— Spencer Thompson (@ThompsonNFL) November 3, 2022
Speaking of the redzone, adding Hockenson to the Vikings redzone package is chill-inducing for defensive coordinators. The things Kevin O’Connell has already done in the red area is one thing but adding a player like Hockenson is borderline illegal. He can win in a variety of ways, like on a wheel route off a rub:
Hock redzone rub wheel route pic.twitter.com/8BKCcS9Rp4— Spencer Thompson (@ThompsonNFL) November 3, 2022
One more clip because this play is fun.
T.J. Hockenson showing off his catch radius pic.twitter.com/0Qz16kxaE9— Shawn (@syedschemes) November 1, 2022
How Hockenson Affects Roster Construction
Using the Fitzgerald-Spielberger value chart, the Vikings late second rounder is worth 951 points and the third rounder in 2023 is worth 725 points (not adjusting for difference in years). The early fourth rounder the Vikings get along with Hockenson is worth 537 points and the conditional fourth would be worth 428 points if it materializes. The net value is approximately 714 points, equivalent to a third rounder. This methodology is flawed though, since we are valuing future picks at present value and we are assuming the Vikings will end up recouping the additional fourth rounder. Either way, the Vikings got Hockenson at a reasonable, market-value price at worst.
With just a 536k cap hit in 2022, Hockenson has hardly an effect cap-wise this year. However, since Detroit picked up his 5th year option, he’ll be due 9.3 million in 2023. A 9.3 million dollar cap hit in 2023 ranks 10th, which is a value for a player of Hockenson’s caliber. If the Vikings end up strapped for cash next offseason, a deserved extension could provide cap relief if needed. Speaking of an extension, off market trends I’d estimate a 26-year-old top 6 tight end will probably ask for 3 years/15 million at minimum.
That might be a little steep depending on who you ask, but the Vikings had a significant future need at TE, which Monday’s move partially resolved. Hockenson is under contract for the next 2 seasons, which would make him the second TE on the books beyond 2023. The trade for Hockenson and not picking up his 5th year option, presumably means Irv Smith won’t stay in Minnesota. Johnny Mundt and Ben Ellefson, despite being pretty fun, are just depth guys. The two methods to address the TE position, draft and free agency, are less effective than the route Kwesi took.
Going back to the draft pick value mentioned early, the net cost of acquiring Hockenson was approximately 714 points (1139 excluding the conditional fourth rounder). Based on the assumption we do not recoup the 2023 fourth rounder, that is equivalent to a mid-second-round pick. What are the chances you draft a tight end better, or even equal to, Hockenson at that point in the draft? In terms of free agency/cap, the Vikings get extreme value for the next two years while Hockenson plays out his rookie deal.
A damn good football player that adds explosiveness and could elevate the Vikings offense is on his way to Minnesota. The draft value used in acquiring Hockenson is slightly below market value and the Vikings are paying, on average, $5m a year for near-elite production the next two seasons. The trade addresses a future need while bringing the Vikings one step closer to competing for a Super Bowl appearance. I am ready to be hurt again.
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