Monday, January 04, 2021

T.J. Hockenson Was Lions' Team MVP in 2020



JAN 2, 2021


It is never easy for a player that plays on a losing team to get recognized. 

However, that is just what tight end T.J. Hockenson has managed to do, and it is for that and other reasons that he is my vote for the Lions' Most Valuable Player (MVP) of 2020. 

It is Hockenson's first Pro Bowl nod, and it was enough to get him noticed by his former Iowa teammate and current 49ers tight end George Kittle, who, according to Fox Sports, told Hockenson, "Hey man, congratulations, and welcome to the Pro Bowl. The last time a Detroit tight end earned a Pro Bowl selection, you've got to go back 21 years to David Sloan."

Sure, a viable argument can certainly be made for the other two first-time Detroit Pro Bowlers: Center Frank Ragnow and punter Jack Fox. 

However, I am picking Hockenson. 

If all three could be named as the MVP, it would be preferable to me. But, in the end, there can only be one. 

It is the first time since 2014 that three Detroit Lions have been named to the Pro Bowl. Kudos to Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia for that. 

To be selected to the Pro Bowl in any year is an honor, let alone in this year of unprecedented uncertainty and chaos.

All three of these players have gone beyond the call of duty to show they have what it takes to perform at the highest of levels, which bodes well for the future. 

In an earlier article I wrote this season, Hockenson got labeled as "Gronk 2.0," which ruffled some feathers out there. 

However, whether Hockenson gets a Monster drink named after him someday is neither here nor there, because there is no denying he has been a consistent force in Detroit's offense

There is just something about him, which is what struck me in my 2019 evaluation of Hockenson.

And that "something" played out on the field once again in 2020. 

In my 2019 evaluation (received a "B" grade), he was impressive, but the question mark was could his ankle hold up for this season.  

The short answer is yes. 

Hockenson indeed has stayed healthy, and has started in 15 games so far, with the Lions' season finale to be played this Sunday against Minnesota. 

This season, Hockenson has recorded 64 receptions (targeted 98 times) for 698 yards, a 10.9 yards-per-catch average and six touchdowns.

In 2019, he was healthy for 13 of 16 games, and finished with 32 receptions (targeted 59 times) for 367 yards, a 11.5 yards-per-reception average and two touchdowns.

Fans may look at this, and say, "What's the big deal?" 

The big deal is that according to Fantasy Football Today, Hockenson's numbers have him sitting as the fifth-best tight end in the game

Sure, he doesn't have Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce's numbers (105 receptions, targeted 145 times, 1,416 yards, a 13.5 YPC average and 11 touchdowns). 

But, he does have better numbers than Gronkowski, who is currently ranked seventh, and both he and Hockenson have played in the same number of games. 

I went back for this piece, and watched all 105 plays Hockenson has played in this season.

Raj Mehta, USA TODAY Sports

#88 TE T.J. Hockenson - 6-foot-5, 250 pounds 

GRADE: B+ (Good player, but not elite; good enough to win with, however)

2020 Games Evaluated: 9/13 vs. CHI, 9/20 vs. GB, 9/27 vs. AZ, 10/4 vs. NO, 10/18 vs. JAX, 10/25 vs. ATL, 11/1 vs. IND, 11/8 vs. MIN, 11/15 vs. WSH, 11/22 vs. CAR, 11/26 vs. HOU, 12/6 vs. CHI, 12/13 vs. GB, 12/20 vs. TEN and 12/26 vs. TB. 

Scouting Report 

A productive and consistent tight end with above-average athleticism, who is showing steady improvement statistically in his second season. Gets into his mostly short-to-intermediate routes crisply enough, and he has become someone the quarterback can depend on. Does a good job getting himself open. Plucks the ball with his natural and soft-looking hands. Looks like a natural catcher. Confident catcher. Very good concentration while looking the ball into his waiting hands, despite traffic conditions and coverage. Really focused on the ball. Shows he can take a hit and hold on. Smooth-looking while gliding in and out of routes, but sometimes struggles to stay on his feet after the grab is made. Competitive. Will dive for the ball, as he is not afraid to get his jersey grass-stained. Showed he can make the clutch, game-winning catch, as he did in Week 7 against Atlanta. While nobody will ever accuse him of being elusive, he tries to get to the sticks, and shows the desire to pick up as many yards as he can (or that the defense gives him) after the catch. Makes the most of his opportunities, despite not being able to outrun a defense. Tough and physical enough. 

My one big criticism of him -- and I pointed this out last season -- is that he continues to drop about one pass he should have caught in nearly every game. Needs to work to improve on that. That is what is keeping him out of the elite-grading range.

Works at it as a blocker, and attempts to hold the point. Does an adequate job blocking, but that is not how he will earn his living. Looks and plays like a football player who could play in any era, and he earned a slight increase in his grade this season.

I maintain Hockenson reminds me of a modern-day Mark Bavaro more than anyone else. 

And, while none of us knows what will happen in 2021 anymore than we did this time last year heading into 2020, you can take these five things to the bank about Hockenson:

1.) He gives a strong effort.

2.) He is productive. 

3.) He is relatively dependable. 

4.) He is showing steady improvement. 

5.) He made his first Pro Bowl. 

Ladies and gentlemen, my 2020 Detroit Lions MVP is T.J. Hockenson.

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