The tight end position is one of the most difficult when it comes to transitioning from the college game to the NFL level. Not only do tight ends need to learn complex route schemes, but they are often asked to understand blocking in both the run and passing games. Considering all the variables, it’s extremely rare to see any rookie tight end break out.
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Some tight ends — such as George Kittle, Mark Andrews, Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz — broke out in their second seasons, but others needed even more time before they became useful fantasy assets. Austin Hooper, Darren Waller and Tyler Higbee all broke out in their third or fourth seasons.
In fantasy football drafts, the elite tight ends come with high draft capital, and there are only so many of them. If you miss out at the beginning of your draft, it’s crucial that you snag one or two of these late-round targets who have shown the upside to suggest they can make the next leap.
In this series of articles, I’m looking at the breakout potential at the tight end position, focusing on players entering their second, third and fourth seasons. I'll take a look at their current situations to see if they have a clear path to targets and then analyze what they've done in the NFL to this point to determine whether they've shown the upside to break out in 2020.
The Detroit Lions invested massive draft capital in T.J. Hockenson, selecting the former Iowa Hawkeye with the eighth overall pick in 2019. It didn't take long for the team to see a payoff, as Hockenson burst onto the scene in his first NFL game with six receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals. The receiving total was the most of any tight end in a debut in NFL history. Unfortunately, this ended up being the peak performance of his season, as the rookie struggled the rest of the year with injuries and finished 2019 on injured reserve after playing in 12 games. Losing quarterback Matthew Stafford after Week 9 did not help.
The PFF fantasy projections have the Lions passing for over 4,250 yards in 2020 with Stafford healthy and back under center. This bodes well for Hockenson, who should see plenty of targets in his second season with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. During Bevell’s tenures with the Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks, he helped tight ends Visanthe Shiancoe and Jimmy Graham finish as top-six fantasy tight ends twice each. Hockenson could be ready to take that next step after some encouraging signs in 2019.