Bob Quinn: Lions Can Pick Their Poison On Offense With T.J. Hockenson

Suddenly, tight end is a position of strength.

Will Burchfield
April 26, 2019 - 3:46 am

A few months ago, tight end was probably the weakest position on the Lions' roster. Now it's one of the strongest. 

On the heels of signing Jesse James in free agency, Detroit used the eighth overall pick in the draft Thursday night on T.J. Hockenson -- the highest a tight end has been drafted since Vernon Davis went sixth overall in 2006. He turned out alright.

It presents a question that will be entertained throughout the summer and surely into the 2019 season: How will Hockenson and James work as a tandem? 

General manager Bob Quinn wasted no time answering. 

"Put them on the field together," he said with a smile. "Two really good tight ends."

Clearly, this is something the Lions plan to do. First-year offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell liked to deploy two-tight end packages during his time running the Seahawks' offense. And Matt Patricia on Thursday night stressed the importance of the tight end in today's NFL.

"Right now the game is all moving toward (that) position," he said "That's the mismatch that everyone's trying to figure out." 

With Hockenson and James on board, the Lions can force opposing defenses to pick their poison. 

"Probably will work a lot of 12 personnel, which is one running back and two tight ends," said Quinn. "I think that’s something that our offense can really work through, and I think we can be very multiple. We can switch easily to 11 personnel (one TE, one RB) and have Danny (Amendola) out there with our receivers. And then pick your poison to what tight end you want to put on the field.

"Tight end is a position, kind of like running back, you’re not going to play 100 percent of the snaps. You’re going to be out there as much as you can, but it’s going to give us a lot of versatility to do a lot of different things on offense. That’s one of the things that kept pointing us back to T.J.," said Quinn. 

Between Hockenson and James, the latter is the bigger target at 6'7, 260 lbs. Hockenson, who checks in at 6'5, 250 lbs., is more of a vertical threat. That's not to say he can't make plays in traffic. Hockenson dropped just one pass last year at Iowa on his way to winning the Mackey Award as the best tight end in the country. 

Quinn was hunting for more playmakers this offseason, and he said Hockenson "absolutely" fits the bill. 

"The crucial situations for Iowa (last season), he’s the one that usually gets the ball. He’s the one that’s on the field all the time in their critical-red area, third-down situations," Quinn said. "It's something we took note of, something I talked to Coach Ferentz about at length during this process." 

As a sophomore, Hockenson caught 49 passes for 760 yards and six touchdowns. 

"Really smooth with the way he coordinates his body and puts himself in good position to make those tough catches. Obviously, excellent hands. Very natural the way he just goes up and gets it. Doesn’t fight it at all," said Quinn.

Hockenson is more than a weapon in the passing game. He's an every-down tight end, with the ability to abuse defenders as a run blocker.

Patricia said Hockenson "represents everything we want," a feeling Quinn reiterated. 

"Four-down player that is going to be a big part of our offense going forward," said Quinn. "Really checked every box that we had in the evaluation process, from third down to red area to blocking to special teams to culture to intelligence to work ethic. You name it." 

As with every rookie tight end, the question is how quickly Hockenson can get up to speed. He'll have more to learn on offense than almost any of his teammates. Hockenson is confident he'll learn learn it quickly enought to make an impact this season

So is Quinn. 

"I would say that’s probably one of T.J.’s strengths, is that he's very intelligent," said Quinn. "Knows football inside and out. ... I don’t think he’s going to be a slow-to-develop tight end. Every position in the league is one that takes a period of transition, tight end being like all the others.

"Listen, there’s pressure to win every game. That's the business we're in. And I think T.J. in his career has shown that he steps up to pressure. He steps up in big games in the Big Ten on a weekly basis. He’s not going to be scared, I know that."