In 2016, the Iowa Hawkeyes lost a senior tight end to the NFL who would go on to pile up over 1,300 receiving yards and earn a 2nd-team All-Pro selection in 2018.
This man was George Kittle.
In 2017, Kittle’s replacement matched Kittle’s production in his rookie campaign and then doubled that production in 2018.
This man was T.J. Hockenson.
These two tight ends have more than just an alma mater in common. The two have similar body types and playing styles that will probably connect them for the rest of their careers.
Even though the Bengals have re-signed Tyler Eifert to a one-year deal, they could bring in Hockenson to be his replacement, replacing one first-round tight end with another.
Typically, when you think of Big Ten tight ends, specifically Iowa tight ends, you think of blockers used heavily in the run game who, when they are finally called upon to catch a pass, run a short slant for a five yard reception.
However, players like Kittle and Hockenson are revolutionizing the position. Even though tight ends are becoming more and more like receivers every year, these two are the culmination of tight end evolution. Hockenson, for example, was 6’5” and 251 pounds at the combine. That only makes him an inch taller and 14 pounds heavier than potential first-round wide receiver, D.K. Metcalf.
Hockenson is one of the most athletic and versatile tight ends in the country, and will be an easy first-rounder. He single handedly elevated the offense of a team that is typically known for defense. Hockenson was either making amazing catches and blocks, or was drawing double-teams and letting his teammates shine.
Because Hockenson had to carry the team, his production was not eye-popping, despite the fact that he led his team in receiving. If he had played in a better offense, he easily would have passed the 1,000-yard threshold. The Bengals would be a great landing spot for him, as defenses would worry about A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, and Joe Mixon.
Why the pick makes sense:
- While he’s not quite on the same athletic plane as Kittle, Hockenson is still going to be one the most athletic TEs in the NFL this year.
- Hockenson is an explosive route runner who can create separation quickly and easily.
- His route running allows him to become a viable deep threat, and as he had five receptions over 35 yards in 2018.
- He has strong hands and great body control to allow him to catch difficult or contested throws.
- His blocking technique is ugly, but more often than not, he gets the job done. That’s pretty impressive since he doesn’t have the size advantage most other TEs have.
- After the catch, Hockenson is a strong runner and is tough to take down.
- The Bengals don’t have any TEs that are great blockers, so Hockenson could walk in and be the best blocking TE in the organization on day one.
- The Bengals don’t have much depth at TE after losing Tyler Kroft in free agency, which is especially important given Eifert’s history.
Why the pick doesn’t make sense:
- The Bengals have more urgent needs on the defensive side of the ball. They could easily address the TE spot in later rounds of the draft.
- Hockenson’s route tree at Iowa was limited, so he doesn’t have the route running ability of Eifert or C.J. Uzomah.
- His footwork when blocking sometimes causes him to lose his leverage.
- He is on the small side for a TE. His blocking and receiving contested catches might benefit from a few extra pounds.
Whether or not the Bengals decide to pull the trigger on Hockenson will depend on what happens with the first 10 picks of the draft. While tight end is a position of need, the Bengals will probably only take him if their most coveted defensive players are already off the board.
But Hockenson, who is a great athlete and a hard worker, will be a great addition to the Bengals’ offense, and Andy Dalton would be happy to have him.