We’re continuing our trend of getting college blogs to break down possible 2019 NFL Draft targets for the Buffalo Bills leading up to the first round. This week, Harrison Starr from Black Heart Gold Pants broke down tight end T.J. Hockenson who is arguably the best tight end in this year’s draft. The question is, is he worth the top-10 pick?
What are his strengths?
T.J. Hockenson played just two seasons for the Iowa Hawkeyes but had an incredible impact in his time in the black and gold. In both 2017 and 2018, he was the primary tight end due to his ability to function as both a blocker and receiver. His breakout performance was against Ohio State in 2017 where he racked up 71 yards on five catches with two TDs. In that game, he and fellow tight end, Noah Fant, made hay against NFL-caliber linebackers and defensive backs and were used creatively all over the field. He receives a ton of credit for his blocking, and the case exists that he is actually a more consistent blocker than former Hawkeye George Kittle, to whom he’s often compared.
What are his weaknesses?
The one concern I do have about him at the next level is the Kittle comparison is providing too high an expectation. While he graded out at the combine very well, Fant lapped his athleticism (and every other TE). From a pure measurable standpoint, Fant and Kittle are the more comparable pair, which portends to more explosive plays from Fant than Hockenson in the NFL. Hock is going to run smart, clean routes, though, so he will almost always be available for the necessary catch.
The question is: can he break plays open or does he require solid scheme and playcalling to do so?
Is he a good fit in Buffalo?
In Buffalo, where ball security and run game are vital, Hockenson can provide the type of consistency necessary as an every down tight end. He often found himself on the receiving end of key 3rd and 4th down throws and rarely, if ever, dropped a ball.
What are your thoughts on him?
My gut says he’s a TE who will dominate out of play action with the defense out of position. I think he was also the beneficiary of the attention Fant required from opposing defenses. Despite playing about 20 snaps less per game, Noah Fant had just 10 less receptions and one more TD than Hockenson. In the Wisconsin game linked above, he’s got two high yardage catches with limited YAC (4:07 & 6:14). Taking them out of his totals - something I generally hate but think it is indicative at times - and he has a still very good YPC of 14.2 (vs. 15.5). though it demonstrates his ability is more about getting open and scheme vs. breaking plays open.
In the last game of his Hawkeye career, which Fant sat out, he was largely shut out against Mississippi State until two fourth-quarter plays (back-to-back from the link), which generated offense during the most necessary time. He shows impressive strength in breaking tackles and dragging defenders in helping Iowa get the 5-point margin MSU could not overcome.
Most importantly, is he worth the top-10 pick?
Ultimately, I don’t think he is a particularly sexy top-10 pick as a very high floor tight end with a potentially high ceiling. I think his statistical comp is someone like Zach Ertz, right around 10-12 YPC. For a team with a need for an all-purpose tight end, he’ll have incredible value. To succeed at the level of Kittle, he will have to be the beneficiary of very good scheme and/or playmakers around him.