Could TJ Hockenson’s role in Lions attack really grow?

TJ Hockenson will continue to play an important role in the Lions attack, but could his role change this year?

After consecutive 60-catch seasons, despite missing the final five games last season, tight end TJ Hockenson will be an important part of the Lions attack this year and until further notice as he and his team work out a long-term contract.

Entering a new season, his fourth in the league, Hockenson has grown accustomed to the changes within the Lions coaching staff. Ben Johnson will be his third offensive coordinator, but he was the Lions’ tight ends coach last year and in 2020. Prior to that, he worked closely with Hockenson as quality control coach.

Following the first practice of training camp on Wednesday, via Lions’ Tim Twentyman website, Hockenson noted his familiarity with Johnson.

He was QC (quality control) here three or four years ago and we were sneaking around rooms and he was helping me with the infraction, watching a movie and doing a bunch of stuff,”

Ben Johnson may have big plans for TJ Hockenson

As Twentyman noted, Hockenson lined up all over the court and was occasionally put on the move during offseason work. Having more weapons around him will help Hockenson find more room to operate, while opening up options for where and how he can be used.

The question, how important he has been a target in the last two seasons, is this.

Can Hockenson’s role in the Lions attack evolve?

According RotoWire (subscription required)here’s how Hockenson was deployed last season, with the number and percentage of his snaps that came in each location.

Left Tight: 191 snaps – 29.1%
Right Tight: 168 snaps, or 25.6%
Right slit: 159 shots – 24.2%
Left lunge: 115 snaps-17.5%
Left outside: 12 shots – 1.8%
Just outside – 12 shots – 1.8%

It’s still a unique subset of tight ends that can line up outside and be effective. Hockenson appears to have enough athleticism to be good on the perimeter, along with the ability to win hard-fought catch situations that are virtually unmatched among tight ends in the league.

Hockenson added hints of what Johnson might have in store for him.

He’s seen what I can do and seen I can be split by the numbers and win against a DB and win against a corner,” Hockenson said of Johnson. “It’s good to have as an OC and to have someone who can trust you. So we’re going to have fun with it. He’s going to let me do certain things and I’m happy about that.

Hockenson has a baseline for what he can do, but he certainly has room to improve and grow. It certainly looks like Johnson will leave nothing to chance in getting the most out of the Lions’ No. 1 tight end and finding unique ways to deploy him.

Charles P. Patton