The NFL keeps throwing surprises at us. The Detroit Lions traded tight end T.J. Hockenson to the Minnesota Vikings before the trade deadline passed. It’s not often we see intradivisional trades go down. It’s even rarer to see it happen to one of the best young players at their position.
Vikings Acquire T.J. Hockenson From Lions
When the trade first popped up on the wire (Twitter), my immediate thought was that it was an overpay by the Vikings, who were being aggressive in a down NFC. Well, it turns out I misread the compensation, and Kwesi Adofo-Mensah wasn’t giving up four picks for a tight end.
The Vikings receive Hockenson, a 2023 fourth-round pick, and a conditional 2024 fourth-round pick. Meanwhile, the Lions receive a 2023 second-round pick and a 2024 third-round pick. In summation, Minnesota got one of the most talented tight ends in the NFL in a pick swap with a division rival.
Vikings Going “All-In” Against a Down NFC
The Vikings haven’t had a TE with over 600 receiving yards in a season since Kyle Rudolph in 2018. Additionally, the team has lacked a true No. 3 target behind Justin Jefferson and an admittedly-aging Adam Thielen.
But Hockenson doesn’t simply help as a weapon in the passing game for Kevin O’Connell. Part of Hockenson’s massive appeal coming out of Iowa was his outrageous blocking ability.
While that hasn’t always been the case at the NFL level, the physical ability to be a dominant run blocker at the position remains. In a league where it’s tough finding tight ends that can do both, the Vikings have.
Minnesota currently ranks 18th in team DVOA and 11th in offensive DVOA. They’re coming up with ways to win one-score games at the moment. Adding another option in the passing game and what should be an upgrade in the run game is a step forward for a team that will need to lean on their offense as the season progresses.
And to give up what is ultimately just a 2023 third-round pick for a year and a half of control on a player of Hockenson’s caliber is a huge get.
Lions Stockpiling Picks for a QB
The lack of compensation for Detroit here is puzzling. It appears obvious that Brad Holmes had no interest in extending the tight end long-term. He also knows that he may not have a job for very long if he can’t find Detroit a franchise QB ASAP.
In layman’s terms, he probably didn’t think he could wait to see the comp pick for Hockenson in three years from now. Instead, Holmes picked up another second-round pick to add ammunition for a potential trade-up for a quarterback.
Luckily for Holmes, there shouldn’t be much movement to be had. The Lions are professional game losers. They’re largely competitive in most games and sometimes find hilarious ways to lose late. But they lose often.
Detroit has built a foundation for potential success should they find themselves said QB. Their offensive line is talented, and they’ve quietly stockpiled some receiver talent in the past 18 months.
But even though the decision to move on from Hockenson makes sense from a big-picture perspective, letting him go for practically a ham sandwich to a divisional opponent feels wrong.
From S.O.L. to Skol
The real winner here is Hockenson. He goes from a perpetual loser to a team looking to possibly tackle the top seed in the NFC playoff picture, should the Philadelphia Eagles fumble enough games for their heads-up tiebreaker not to matter.
It’s been a while since Kirk Cousins had a tight end command targets, but the veteran QB is no stranger to using the position. There were multiple seasons in the last decade where Rudolph commanded over 80 targets.
Hockenson is far more dynamic as an athlete than Rudolph, and that athleticism is a massive indicator in the success of the position historically. If he’s going to finally take off the way we expected a top-10 pick to do and live up to the George Kittle comparisons, it will be in Minnesota.
Hockenson will never be the top option, but he won’t lack opportunities.