Experts give Lions solid, if not spectacular grades for first-round pick
In Detroit, there were some groans. That's what happens when you draft a tight end so early in the first round, again.
But around the country, the reviews were more favorable for the Lions' selection of Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson.
Here's a roundup from all corners of the Internet.
Pete Prisco, CBS Sports
He's a good player, but let's stop with all the comparisons to Rob Gronkowski. He's a good blocker, but nowhere near as good as Gronkowski. He's more George Kittle. Can he rush the passer because the Lions can't rush the passer? Grade: B-
Steven Ruiz, USA Today
Hockenson should develop into a fine tight end … just not one who really makes a difference for the Lions. Those game-changing tight ends are rare. Merely good tight ends are not and should not be taken with a top-10 pick, as Detroit learned the last time it used one on the position (Eric Ebron at No. 10 in 2014). Grade: C-
Dan Kadar, SB Nation
If Lions head coach Matt Patricia is adamant on recreating the New England Patriot, he just got his Rob Gronkowski. Just a little smaller. Hockenson is the most complete tight end in the draft with his ability to block and catch the ball. Hockenson is a good athlete too and will make some plays after the catch. The only thing that makes this strange is the Lions just signed Jesse James in free agency. Grade: B
Danny Kelly, The Ringer
Man, the Lions just love taking tight ends early. Hockenson becomes just the fourth player at his position to come off the board in the top 10 since the turn of the century, and just the second since 2007. The other in that stretch, of course, was Eric Ebron, whom the Lions took with the 10th pick in the 2014 draft. That didn’t work out too great for Detroit.
But this is a new team with a new coaching staff, and I’m guessing Matt Patricia pictures Hockenson bringing a Rob Gronkowski–type presence to his offense. The John Mackey Award winner as the nation’s top tight end is a throwback combo player who can threaten the seam as a pass catcher on one snap and then bury a defender as a blocker on the next. That versatility gives Detroit the ability to do whatever it wants when he’s on the field, whether that’s running the ball down an opponent’s throat or throwing it over their head. He is one of the highest-floor players in this draft. That said, I don’t like the value of taking anytight end this high, especially when so many players at other premium positions are still available. That’s the only reason this isn’t an A grade.
Can catch and block, a rarity at tight end these days. The Lions will rely on him more for the latter to start, with the hope that A) he becomes a playmaker by Year 2 or 3 and B) isn’t Eric Ebron. Grade: B
Andy Benoit, Sports Illustrated
Head coach Matt Patricia fired offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter in part because Cooter was not overly familiar with the Patriots-style scheme that Patricia wants to run. (We’ll soon find out if new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is.) Obviously, a Patriots-style scheme has plenty of room for a five-tool tight end. Hockenson might not be the next Rob Gronkowski (those would be unfair expectations to place upon any player), but like Gronk, he is both a high-level receiver and blocker. That gives the Lions schematic flexibility and helps a running game that, incredibly, has remained mostly dormant since Barry Sanders’s sudden retirement. The fact that Detroit signed ex-Steeler Jesse James for $10.5 million guaranteed in free agency suggests they want to keep two tight ends on the field, which helps simplify the looks they’ll see from opposing defenses. Grade: B+
Chad Reuter, NFL.com
I love Hockenson as a two-way tight end prospect. He will be a strong target for Matthew Stafford and a nice blocker in the run game. But he wasn't the top player available: it was defensive tackle Ed Oliver. Time will tell which way they should have gone with that pick. Grade: B+
Mike Tanier, Bleacher Report
In Iowa’s two-tight end attack, Noah Fant (expected to be drafted later in this round) was the king-sized speedster most likely to line up in the slot or flex position, challenge defenders up the seam and make plays in the red zone. Hockenson was more likely to line up at H-back or in-line, handle the blocking chores and work the flats, though he had some big-play capability of his own thanks to impressive not-quite-Fant speed, deep-ball tracking skills and a knack for breaking tackles after the catch.
Tight ends like Hockenson often turn out to be more productive than tight ends like Fant in the NFL because opponents can’t just treat them as extra wide receivers. They’re more likely to draw coverage from linebackers and use their blocking skills to become play-action weapons.
Hockenson is more of a hustle-and-hit guy than a top blocking technician, and he doesn’t pull down quite as many tough catches as Travis Kelce-tier tight ends. But he should be productive and stay in the lineup for years.
This wouldn’t be a Lions draft grade without a Patriots comparison: Hockenson is no Rob Gronkowski. No one is, and no one in Detroit plans to use Hockenson the way the Patriots used Gronk (we hope). But Hockenson is a better tight end option than free-agent acquisition Jesse James, and he should diversify an offense that has been far too predictable for years.