T.J. Hockenson Has Shown a Mixed Bag in 2023

One Viking Totally
Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson (87) walks on the field after losing a wild card game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

A season ago, general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah identified a need for Kirk Cousins to have more receiving threats. Then Irv Smith Jr. went down. Addressing the tight end position with a significant upgrade, the Vikings brought T.J. Hockenson in. Now signed to a lucrative new deal, the early returns have been a mixed bag.

T.J. Hockenson Has Shown a Mixed Bag in 2023

When the Minnesota Vikings swung a deal with the Detroit Lions to acquire T.J. Hockenson, they had a good idea of what they were getting. Arguably the best tight end in the game by age and talent, Hockenson brings a trajectory that could eventually rival a Travis Kelce production level. There’s no denying Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins would welcome that reality, and Minnesota certainly sees it, as evidenced by the contract he was handed.

Shown a Mixed
Dec 17, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson (87) catches a two-point conversion during the fourth quarter against the Indianapolis Colts at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Through the first four weeks of 2023, Hockenson has been productive in the box score but has been responsible for a couple of key miscues. He has already been on the receiving end of 25 passes, and his two touchdowns position him well to challenge the career-high of six that he set a season ago. Averaging more than 50 yards per game again this year, it’s clear Kevin O’Connell wants him to remain a focal point in the offense, but that also requires a bit better output regarding execution.

Against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 3, things couldn’t have gone worse. Not only did Chargers safety Alohi Gilman rip the ball away from Minnesota’s tight end for a fumble, but the game-ending play also escaped his grasp. It wasn’t ideal that Kirk Cousins couldn’t hear the play call at the end of the fourth quarter and inexplicably didn’t know that spiking the ball and collecting himself was a straightforward plan of action. Still, the pass he threw hit Hockenson in the hands and yet found itself bouncing to a defender for a game-sealing interception.

Traveling to Carolina for a Week 4 contest, Hockenson didn’t have problems holding onto the football this time, but his lack of execution on a rub route in the end zone gave the Panthers defender a prime opportunity to house a 99-yard interception. Cousins’ pass on the out route to K.J. Osborn didn’t look to be there, but a timing play was substantially thrown off when the veteran tight end failed to make any impact on the defender jumping the route.

It’s not as though Hockenson has been some sort of egregious failure for Minnesota through the early portion of the year. For a team that expected to be better, though, losses stacking up allow for opportunity to dissect the little things going wrong. Unfortunately, Hockenson has been in the middle of multiple little things to this point and had a couple of them broken differently; results may have swung in Minnesota’s favor.

Sep 24, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end Josh Oliver (84) celebrates his touchdown with tight end T.J. Hockenson (87) against the Los Angeles Chargers in the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

Maybe it should be obvious that Justin Jefferson is having yet another stellar season. It seems the wide receiver rolls out of bed and is capable of putting up 100 yards on any given weekend. Jordan Addison hasn’t yet found his footing consistently, though, and Hockenson being a trustable option in all facets needs to happen sooner rather than later.

The Vikings executed a strong process in grabbing the veteran tight end, and doubling down to secure his services for the long haul made a ton of sense. Now, they just need him to lock in and provide just a bit more each time he steps between the lines.

Ted Schwerzler is a blogger from the Twin Cities that is focused on all things Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. He’s active on Twitter and writes weekly for Twins Daily. As a former college athlete and avid sports fan, covering our pro teams with a passion has always seemed like such a natural outlet.