Monday, November 07, 2022

TJ Hockenson proves to be an impact player right away


Vikings' new tight end played nearly the entire game after being acquired earlier this week


November 7, 2022

It took TJ Hockenson three plays to make a difference.

The Minnesota Vikings faced third-and-5 on their opening possession against the Washington Commanders. Hockenson snapped off a route, broke open into the middle of the field and caught the ball from Kirk Cousins for a 19-yard gain that kickstarted an eventual touchdown drive.

It’s been a struggle on key passing downs for the Vikings this year. They entered the game ranking 18th on third downs, converting less than 40%. The tight end position also had not been fruitful, totaling just 244 yards on 47 targets between Irv Smith Jr. and Johnny Mundt. It was clear by the conclusion of Sunday’s contest that Hockenson changed the math in both of those areas.

On the game-winning drive, the former top pick of the Lions grabbed another third-down pass from Cousins to move the sticks inside the red zone with 2:41 remaining.

“We did not really dumb anything down, we didn’t have a separate offense when [TE] T.J. [Hockenson] was in there,” head coach Kevin O’Connell said. “I am amazed at how prepared he was to play. I think it's a testament to his work ethic, his ability to retain a lot of information.”

Hockenson finished with nine catches on nine targets for 70 yards. Since 2017, only one other time has a Vikings tight end caught more than seven passes — that was Kyle Rudolph in 2018 versus Detroit. Only once did the Vikings get more than 70 yards out of a tight end during the 2021 season.

“My last four days have been incredible and the guys in this locker room are so great,” the Vikings’ new tight end said. “They helped me throughout the process, with learning the offense, and with figuring everything out.”

The Vikings’ Jefferson-centric offense desperately needed another option and it showed against Washington. On 15 throws that did not target Jefferson or Hockenson, Cousins completed just seven for 78 yards (36 of which came on one play).

Hockenson seems thrilled to be a difference maker on the Vikings. He joked this week that he “saw the memes” about him jumping from the last place to first place organization.

“They’re already yelling my name,” Hockenson said. “It’s pretty sweet and I'm really happy to be part of this organization and part of this team. There’s nowhere else I'd rather be.”

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