The history of Buffalo Bills tight ends is, honestly, pitiful. Buffalo just closed another chapter in the book with the release of Charles Clay in March. Free-agent signing Tyler Kroft and third-year pro Jason Croom look to continue the tradition of mediocrity, but the Bills could change the narrative if they used a first-round pick on Iowa’s T.J. Hockenson. Let’s dive into the young Hawkeye’s film.
The first bit that stands out with Hockenson is that he’s an impressive athlete, across the board. The 6’5”, 250-lb tight end has enough speed to outrun linebackers and safeties, and pairs that with the functional strength of an effective blocking tight end. His catching technique is excellent, receiving passes without breaking stride. He creates a proper pocket for the ball with his hands and looks the ball into them.
Hockenson’s route running shows maturity. He works head fakes and shoulder fakes into his routes. Some of them are slow and blatant, but others are fast, violent, and natural. I’ve seen chops, rips, and swim moves used to separate on routes.
I do think that Hockenson needs to work on escaping jams from linebackers and safeties near the line. In the games I watched, there were several instances of his timing being disrupted by extended contact with defenders. The tools and skills are present for him to avoid this contact, but it just needs to be more consistent.
Again, I want to emphasize: Hockenson is an athletic marvel. Iowa asked him to handle tough, varied roles in its pro-style offense. He spent time in the backfield as an H-back, as an inline tight end, and split into the slot. He ran routes from three-point stances. He’d chip and release as the primary target on passing plays. And when they called his number, he would execute.
There’s been plenty written (and GIFed) about Hockenson’s highlight-reel blocking, though I actually was more impressed by George Kittle’s work two years ago. Hockenson gives plenty of effort in his blocks, and puts his athleticism to work on difficult reach blocks that require him to turn a defender out of a gap. He can meet a defender at the second level and land a block to extend runs. I also really like his pass protection, which features a wide base, good hip sink, and a fast, heavy punch.
His blocking tape is still inconsistent (and to be fair, that describes 99 percent of tight ends). He doesn’t always square up his opponent, and can be caught lunging past the target or losing grip. Athletic edge rushers will still be able to corner around him or bench press him back into the quarterback.
Nonetheless, Hockenson’s tape shows a player capable of starting in the NFL as a rookie, even in the difficult all-around role an NFL tight end represents. Combine that with his 86th-percentile athleticism and it’s easy to see why this player is worth a first-round pick (and why he’s been crowned TE1).