Bills should keep feeding the offense

T.J. Hockenson at nine would make me happy

Howard Simon
April 23, 2019 - 4:49 pm

Photo: Michael Hickey - Getty Images

The offseason for the Buffalo Bills has been all about fixing the offense and helping Josh Allen. I hope Bills general manager Brandon Beane is still in that mindset when the Bills are on the clock Thursday night with the ninth pick in the NFL Draft.

You want to really help the second-year quarterback? Go out and get him a No. 1 tight end, which means the Bills need to select T.J. Hockenson from the University of Iowa. Hockenson is considered the top tight end in this draft, and should be able to make a difference for Allen and company as a rookie.

When was the last time the Bills had a real threat at the tight end position? They added help at wide receiver in John Brown and Cole Beasley. They brought in new blood in the backfield in Frank Gore and T.J. Yeldon. They even added a tight end in Tyler Kroft, but he’s had just 67 catches in 51 career games. It’d be nice for the Bills to find a tight end who can have 60-plus catches in one season. The last time that happened was Pete Metzelaars in 1993, and Metzelaars wasn’t loaded with talent. He was a good tight end in a very explosive offense. 

When Beane was asked recently about evaluating tight ends, the Bills general manager said the position is really made up of three parts: pass catcher, pass protector and run blocker. Hockenson checks off all of those boxes based on what he did in Iowa City, where he ended his career as the recipient of the John Mackey award, given to the top tight end in the country. The 6’ 5” and 251-pound Hockenson became the second tight end in school history with 750-plus receiving yards in a season. He’s a big target who can line up in line, or in the slot and provide Allen with an option on short to intermediate range throws as well as be a weapon in the red zone. Hockenson also has the experience of playing in a pro style offense in college, which should help his transition to the NFL. 

The Bills also want their tight ends to block, and Hockenson developed into an elite-level blocker. Iowa tight ends regularly lined up across from defensive ends and were required to seal off the edge on run plays. Iowa ran the ball on 55% of their plays last season, and they liked to run out of the two tight end set with Hockenson and Noah Fant, who would also be a good first round option for the Bills should Hockenson be off the board. Hockenson’s position coach at Iowa was Brian Ferentz, who former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski credits with teaching him how to block. 

A top tight end can make a huge difference for an offense as Beane and head coach Sean McDermott would know from their time in Carolina. Greg Olsen had a stretch from 2012-2016 where he recorded three seasons of at least 1,000 yards and had two other seasons of 800-plus yards. Olsen had more than 100 targets in each of those five seasons.

Despite all of the pluses, I still don’t expect the Bills to draft Hockenson at nine. It is said to be a deep draft at tight end, and my guess is the Bills will address offensive line or pass rusher at nine and take a tight end later. Conventional wisdom also says you aren’t supposed to spend a top-10 pick on that position because the value just isn’t there. A tight end has been selected ninth or higher just two times in the last 22 years. It's happened just six times in the last 40 drafts. The last time the Bills used a top-10 pick on a tight end was Paul Seymour in 1973. My response to that is I don’t care. To heck with conventional wisdom. The Bills haven’t had a dangerous passing offense since Drew Bledsoe, Eric Moulds and Peerless Price. If that doesn’t qualify, then we have to go back to Jim Kelly and the Super Bowl teams.

The NFL is a passing league and you don’t succeed without a top quarterback, so why not give the quarterback as many weapons as possible at the skill positions? It is clearly a position of need, but I’d guess Hockenson won’t be the “best player available” on the Bills' board when it's their turn to pick. However, this is the beauty of the Hockenson selection since he isn’t just a pass catching weapon. Hockenson will help protect the quarterback and improve the run blocking as well. 

This is where someone will tell me the solution is to trade down and then take Hockenson. The ninth overall pick is too high for tight end, so drop down a few slots and then put his name on the card. Why? If you like the guy, just take him. What happens if the Bills trade down and someone else drafts Hockenson? Now you’ve missed out on a player you wanted because he couldn’t have a single digit for his draft position.  

Pete Metzelaars is the Bills' all-time leader in receptions by a tight end with 302…in 156 games. I’ll save you the time doing the math, it comes out to less than two receptions a game on the average. The Bills are desperate for a big-time threat at tight end, which is why Hockenson has to be the choice. Hockenson would also come with a cost controlled contract as opposed to the five-year, $38 million price tag that came with the last No. 1 tight end, Charles Clay.

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