Former Hawkeye T.J. Hockenson showing to be bright star in NFL

In his second year in the NFL, former Hawkeye tight end T.J. Hockenson notched 723 receiving yards.


Nick Rohlman

Iowa T.J. Hoeckenson walks back onto the field during Iowa’s game against Illinois at Memorial Stadium in Champaign on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Fighting Illini 63-0.

Ethan Brander, Sports Reporter


In two seasons in the NFL, former Hawkeye tight end T.J. Hockenson has proven to be one of the league’s best young stars.

Pro Football Focus analyst Ben Linsey currently has Hockenson as the seventh-best tight end heading into the 2021-22 season.

Hockenson spent three seasons as Hawkeye from 2016-19 — after he redshirted his freshman year in 2016, Hockenson played in two seasons at Iowa.

In Hockenson’s first full year on the Hawkeyes in 2017-18, Hockenson had 320 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

Hockenson had a breakout year in the 2018-19 season, notching 760 yards and six touchdowns while averaging 14.6 yards per reception and sharing the position with former Hawkeye Noah Fant.

Hockenson garnered multiple honors following his 2018-19 season, including the John Mackey Award — given to the top tight end in the nation. He also earned first-team All-American status from USA Today in the 2018-19 season.

He saw his biggest game of the 2018-19 season in the Hawkeyes’ Week 4 loss to Wisconsin, when he caught three passes for 125 yards.

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Following Iowa’s win against Mississippi State in the 2019 Outback Bowl, Hockenson decided to forego his final two years of eligibility and declare for the NFL Draft.

At the 2019 NFL Combine, Hockenson put up a 4.7-second 40-yard dash. He also achieved a 37.5-inch vertical — the second-best jump among tight ends at the draft, behind only Fant.

Preceding the 2019 NFL Draft, Sports Illustrated had high praise for Hockenson.

“An athletic tight end who also blocks people? It’s true,” Sports Illustrated wrote. “Hockenson has a blend of athleticism and physicality rarely seen in collegiate tight ends. He’s going to be a plus in the run game, and he’s a pass-catching threat too, a fluid mover with the ability to create separation and tough to bring down with the ball in his hands.”

In the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, Hockenson was the first Hawkeye and tight end off the board when he was selected eighth overall by the Detroit Lions. Fant was picked soon after as the second tight end — 20th overall to the Denver Broncos.

Two seasons into his NFL career, Hockenson has made a name for himself as one of the NFL’s best tight ends.

In his rookie season with Detroit in 2019-20, Hockenson had 367 receiving yards with the Lions and two touchdowns.

In the 2020-21 NFL season, Hockenson garnered 723 receiving yards on 67 receptions, averaging 10.8 yards per reception. He also notched six touchdowns for Detroit.

Pro Football Network’s Matt Williamson said he expects Hockenson to be the league’s fourth-best tight end next season, behind Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs, former Hawkeye and San Francisco 49er George Kittle, and the Raiders’ Darren Waller.

“Hockenson can thrive in all situations, particularly in the red zone,” Williamson wrote. “He is a good run blocker as well. Jared Goff is going to love this guy. Hockenson isn’t yet 24 years old, and the best should be yet to come. His target share this year should be immense.”

Williamson also believes Hockenson could be the best receiving threat for the Lions in 2021 and predicts Hockenson to get at least 100 targets. In 2020-21, Hockenson had 101 targets from former Lions quarterback Matt Stafford.

ESPN predicts the Lions to have a record of 6-11 in the 2021-22 NFL season.