Detroit Lions' T.J. Hockenson unfazed by high draft status, Eric Ebron comparisons

Dave Birkett
Detroit Free Press
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – T.J. Hockenson is in select company.

On Thursday, Hockenson joined Vernon Davis, Kellen Winslow Jr. and Junior Miller as the only tight ends in the last 40 years to go in the top eight of the NFL draft.

Davis, Winslow and Miller all made at least one Pro Bowl, but Hockenson said his lofty draft status doesn’t mean he’ll be under any added pressure to perform with the Detroit Lions.

“Honestly, I mean, I don’t think there’s any expectations that I don’t have myself,” Hockenson said. “I’m going to go in and I’m going to do the same thing I did throughout my entire life is work hard and figure out what I need to do to help that team. Whether that’s inline blocking, whether that’s catching the ball, whether that’s sitting on the bench, no one knows. There’s support, but I’m going to work my tail off. I’m going to do everything I can to help this team.”

The Lions decided Hockenson was the rare tight end who was worthy of a top-eight pick because of his wide-ranging abilities as a player.

Hockenson was considered the most complete tight end in college football last season, when he led Iowa with 760 yards receiving and built on his reputation as a mauling run blocker.

While the NFL has trended more towards pass-catching tight ends in recent years, following the lead of college football, Hockenson said blocking is something he’s always taken pride in about his game.

More:Hockenson unfazed as high draft pick, by Eric Ebron comparisons

“It’s part of the job requirements,” Hockenson told the Free Press on Wednesday. “If you want to be a tight end, you’ve got to be able to block and that’s what I try to do. That’s what I try to be, that’s what I try to be able to make sure that I can do everything the job requires and be a three-down tight end and that’s my goal and that’s what it’s going to be at the next level, too.”

In that regard, Hockenson is different than the Lions’ most recent high tight end draft pick, Eric Ebron, the 10th pick of the 2014 draft, and even some of his forefathers in the top-eight tight end club.

Davis, who’s entering his 14th NFL season, had the most successful career of the group. The sixth pick of the 2006 draft, he’s a two-time Pro Bowler with nearly 8,000 yards receiving in his career.

Winslow, who went sixth overall in 2004, had four 75-plus-catch seasons, but was known primarily as a receiving threat. Miller, the seventh pick of the 1980 draft, made the Pro Bowl in his first two seasons but petered out of the NFL after just five years.

“It’s cool (to be picked this high),” Hockenson said. “There’s not a whole lot more I can say. I mean, I’ve worked really hard to get to this point and I’m looking forward to this next step and working really hard to get to another point in my career and point in my life.”

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Hockenson said he’s not worried about the inevitable comparisons he’ll draw to Ebron and Brandon Pettigrew, the Lions’ other recent first-round tight end. Ebron underperformed relative to his draft position in Detroit, while Pettigrew at least made it to a second contract as the 20th pick of the 2009 draft.

“I can’t control anything about that,” Hockenson said. “This has been a dream of mine. The organization is such a good organization. There’s great people there. They’re very genuine people, as I can tell. And I’ve heard nothing but good things so I’m just going to go in there, I’m going to work real hard to be able to do everything I can for the team and be able to help them as much as I can.”

General manager Bob Quinn said he envisions Hockenson playing a three- or even four-down role for the Lions, and that Hockenson should have an immediate impact this fall.

“I don’t want to put this guy in the Hall of Fame just yet, we just took him in the draft,” Quinn said. “I think we’ll take it kind of day-by-day, let him get in the offseason program, let him get with his teammates, let him learn the offense, let him get into training camp and then as he starts playing some NFL games against NFL competition, we’ll kind of revisit (what his ceiling is) maybe at the end of next year. Listen, we took him at where we took him, so we have high expectations, but we’re going to let him go through the process and not do it too fast.”

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Read more on the Detroit Lions and sign up for our Lions newsletter.

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