Detroit Lions: Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson lives out 'dream' on NFL Draft night

Gentry Estes
Hawk Central

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Wearing a Detroit Lions hat and, appropriately enough, socks from one of his favorite movies, “The Lion King,” former Iowa star T.J. Hockenson was asked about the overwhelming experience of becoming a first-round NFL draft pick.

Immediately, he thought of home.

“I’m from a town of 4,200 people,” Hockenson said. “So it’s a little different. But it’s fun.”

One of Chariton’s own became the highest-drafted NFL tight end in 13 years on Thursday night. The Lions picked Hockenson No. 8, making him the sixth-highest pick in Hawkeye history and the best since 2015, when offensive tackle Brandon Scherff went No. 5 to the Washington Redskins.

T.J. Hockenson with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being chosen 8th overall by the Detroit Lions during the first round of the 2019 NFL draft on April 25, 2019 in Nashville, Tenn.

It was surreal, Hockenson said. And his hometown absolutely had a piece of it. His “entire family,” for example, was represented at the draft. That included his grandparents, Max and Cathy Cameron, who now reside just behind Hockenson’s house. Max lived to 92 years old, per Hockenson, saying he wanted to be there for this moment.

“It’s been a dream of his ever since I was little,” Hockenson said. “He always talked about how he wanted to live long enough for me to get drafted.”

Hockenson would be joined later Thursday night by Iowa teammate Noah Fant, who was selected No. 20 by the Denver Broncos, giving Iowa two first-round draft picks for the first time since 1997.

“Two Iowa guys, are you kidding me? Same position? There’s a lot of pride in that,” Hockenson said.

While Hockenson was expected to be a first-round pick, even he admitted that No. 8 felt a little too high when he was pondering the idea of going to Detroit with the Lions on the clock.

Then it happened, confirming a widespread belief that Hockenson was not just the No. 1 tight end prospect in this draft but the rare tight end worth investing a pick in the top quarter of the first round.

Since 1980, only two of them were drafted higher than Hockenson: Kellen Winslow Jr. (2004) and Vernon Davis (2006), each of whom was selected No. 6.

No pressure, T.J.

“I don’t think there’s any expectations I don’t have on myself,” Hockenson said. “I’m going to do the same thing I did throughout my entire life — work hard and figure out what I need to do to help that team, whether that’s in-line blocking, whether that’s catching the ball, whether that’s sitting on the bench, no one knows.

“But I’m going to work my tail off. I’m going to do everything I can to help this team.”

NFL teams were clearly drawn to Hockenson. It had to do with his toughness and physicality, honed by two other brothers and evident in a reputation that he is “one of the best blockers that we’re going to fine,” said analyst Bucky Brooks, who projected Hockenson to go seventh on an episode of “Path To The Draft” earlier Thursday.

“It’s my overall game, but it’s also my attitude towards the game,” Hockenson said. “I love the game of football. I would do anything for this game. I would do this in a parking lot with no one watching. But to be able to do this in a stadium full of thousands of fans and having this be your job, how cool is that? It really is. I have an opportunity of a lifetime, and I’m going to take advantage of it.”