Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson hopes to learn from Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
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Detroit Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson is embracing the opportunity to work with Tony Gonzalez after the Hall of Famer said he sees greatness in the Lions' 2019 first-round pick and extended an invitation to glean some knowledge. 

"Would love the opportunity to learn from the best. You say when and where and I’m there," Hockenson wrote on Twitter, tagging Gonzalez. 

Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson, selected No. 8 overall by the Lions last year, hauled in 32 passes for 367 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie.

The response came after Gonzalez made the offer during a media session at the Super Bowl in Miami earlier this week. 

“He can be an All-Pro, no doubt about it,” Gonzalez said when asked about Hockenson. “Get him in the right system, he can be an All-Pro."

Gonzalez currently works as an analyst for Fox Sports after wrapping up a 17-year career with the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons in 2013. A 14-time Pro Bowler and 10-time All-Pro, he redefined the receiving potential of the position, catching 1,325 passes, the third-most in league history. 

Also a former first-round pick, Gonzalez had 33 receptions for 368 yards and two touchdowns in 16 games as a rookie. Hockenson, selected No. 8 overall by the Lions last year, posted an nearly identical stat line, hauling in 32 passes for 367 yards and two scores. 

The primary difference being Hockenson did it in 12 games, before suffering a season-ending ankle injury

“He’s off to such a great start,” Gonzalez said. “And like I said, you just got to keep taking it to that next level and you got to keep challenging him. And hopefully I’ll get a chance to talk to him. I talked to all these tight ends, young tight ends in the league, so if you do see him, tell him to reach out to me because to me that’s what separates the good ones from the great ones."

The tight end position has developed into one of the most important on the field in recent years. In fact, the two first-team All-Pros from the 2019 season, Kansas City's Travis Kelce and San Francisco's George Kittle, will be on opposite sides in Sunday's Super Bowl. 

Still, rarely is the position addressed so early in the draft. Only four — Kellen Winslow Jr., Vernon Davis, Eric Ebron and Hockenson — have been taken in the top-10 picks during the past two decades.

Kelce was selected in the third round by the Chiefs in 2013 and Kittle, who preceded Hockenson at Iowa, was a fifth-round choice for the 49ers in 2017. 

The idea of Hockenson polishing his craft with Gonzalez would be reminiscent of the work Lions cornerback Darius Slay put in during the offseason between his rookie and second season, traveling to California to train with Hall of Famer Rod Woodson in 2014. 

Slay, who struggled mightily as a rookie, took a massive leap forward in his development after working with Woodson, breaking up 17 passes that next season. 

That jump also correlates with an organizational philosophy, recently reiterated by general manager Bob Quinn at his season-ending press conference when talking about the performance of the team's draft class.  

"The biggest jump is from Year 1 to Year 2, so we want those guys to make a big jump," Quinn said. 

It's unclear when and if Hockenson will actually connect with Gonzalez. At the end of the season, Detroit's rookie was still reliant on a knee scooter to navigate around the locker room. 

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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