Jan 1, 2019; Tampa, FL, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes tight end T.J. Hockenson (38) runs with the ball as Mississippi State Bulldogs cornerback Cameron Dantzler (3) defends during the second half in the 2019 Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to eligible tight end prospects in the 2019 NFL Draft, TJ Hockenson is considered one of the best. Do the Detroit Lions pull the trigger at eight overall?

Over the last 20 years, just three tight ends have were selected in the top ten: Kellen Winslow (2004), Vernon Davis (2006) and Eric Ebron (2014). TJ Hockenson could be the fourth in April.

The same team that took Ebron tenth overall in 2014 are favorites to land Hockenson at eight? Does that put a bad taste in Detroit Lions fans’ mouths?

It shouldn’t. While Ebron didn’t succeed in Detroit, that shouldn’t hinder Lions fans from celebrating what a guy like Hockenson can bring. And yes, it’s a lot more than what Ebron offered coming out of the University of North Carolina five years ago.

The case for Ebron was that he brought excitement to an offense, something the Lions needed outside of wide receiver Calvin Johnson. The case for Hockenson, however, is that he brings grit to an offense. And then, when you least expect it, he’ll make your jaw drop.

TJ Hockenson among best in the trenches

What gets lost in translation searching for a tight end is what they can do in the running game. The highlights you see on your Twitter feed are often the touchdowns or one-handed grabs. In a league where an efficient running attack is crucial (especially in the playoffs), it starts up front.

Hockenson, 6-5 and 250lbs, rolls up his sleeves and goes to work. If you want to play the spot for the University of Iowa, you have to be able to block. He does it better than some of the offensive linemen you’ll see go on day three this year.

As just a sophomore, Hockenson proved he could play at the next level solely by his ability to block. Looking through the NFL, the best blocking tight ends are some of the most value to their teams. Kyle Rudolph, Jack Doyle, and Rob Gronkowski highlight a long list. Another that many will draw comparisons to solely because he’s also a former Hawkeye is George Kittle. Hockenson and Kittle err towards a true dual-threat tight end (rare in today’s NFL) with elite run blocking.

Keeping defenses honest in the passing game

A run blocker at the tight end position is not enough to be the eighth pick in the draft. Pass catching is the premium, but run blocking cements his value to NFL organizations. The winner of the Mackey Award as the best tight end in college football, Hockenson outshined teammate Noah Fant in the passing game. While the Iowa offense better suits what game Hockenson plays, it doesn’t go without saying that quarterback Nate Stanley looked his way more than not. Between the two, Stanley had a higher passer rating throwing to Hockenson (139.1) than he did Fant (122.2).

It wasn’t just simple drags and square outs, either. And if it was, Hockenson made a lot of the plays on his own, averaging over 15 yards per reception throughout the season.

Under the direction of head coach Matt Patricia, Detroit needs a player like Hockenson in the offense. A competitor that’ll put his head down and embrace the grind. A playmaker that’ll not only open up holes for running back Kerryon Johnson but also provide stability in the passing game for quarterback Matthew Stafford.

The current tight ends on the Lions roster are underwhelming. While Luke Wilson has found some success in the NFL, he isn’t a long-term answer. The same goes for Levine Toilolo, who led the Lions at the tight end positions with 21 catches for 263 yards and one touchdown.

Hockenson hits the field at the 2019 NFL Combine this Saturday, March 2, along with the other tight ends, quarterbacks and wide receivers.