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The case for taking tight end T.J. Hockenson in the the first round

When is it time to address the tight end position?
Posted: 3:19 PM, Apr 16, 2019
Updated: 2019-04-16 21:54:53-04

ENGLEWOOD — Joe Flacco took the snap under center on Tuesday afternoon, dropped back, cocked his arm and unleashed a battery of possibilities.

For the first time in view of the media, Flacco operated a practice as the Broncos new quarterback. He looks the part, fills the role, and, at age 34, still has his fastball.

The idea that he remains in his prime – a notion advanced by general manager John Elway and Flacco himself – strains credulity for a player who lost his job to a rookie last season. However, the argument that Flacco can upgrade the Broncos at quarterback and caffeinate an underwhelming offense has merit.

Watching him Tuesday working with new offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello raised the question of the draft as do a lot of things this time of year. When is it OK for the Broncos to draft a position of need in the first round? And how much better would Flacco perform if he had a reliable tight end in this offense?

When Flacco success, the tight ends excel.

The numbers support the eye test. In 2017, Flacco's last full season as a starter, he completed 99 passes to tight ends, second in the NFL. His accuracy on those targets? An eye-opening 77 percent. The Broncos’ tight ends caught 68 passes last season. In 2014 in Gary Kubiak's offense, which will has some similarities to Scangarello's, Flacco was 76-for-117 when throwing to tight ends.

Production from the position remains paramount. Would the Broncos, connecting my hypothetical dots, benefit from trading back in the first round to select a tight end like Iowa’s T.J. Hockenson or Noah Fant?

The Broncos have talented tight ends on the roster, but all feature injury concerns from Jeff Heuerman (knee, hamstring, ribs), Jake Butt (three ACL surgeries) and Troy Fumagalli (sports hernia). Denver has not had a reliable season-long threat at the position since Julius Thomas posted 43 catches and 12 touchdowns in 2014.

Taking a tight end at No. 10 appears a stretch given the number of talented defensive players in the first round. However, trading back to No. 15 or No. 17 to add a pick would create a better scenario for value. Hockenson is considered one of the safest picks in the draft. He remains a proven receiver who can block. Hockenson could start from day one. Fant, also a star at Iowa, projects as more of a receiving tight end. He delivered 19 touchdowns in three seasons with the Hawkeyes. Adding a middle-of-the-field target on underneath routes could boost Flacco’s statistics, if not his confidence.

Taking a tight end at 10, for me, remains a reach. Trade back, add a pick, and the value makes sense and makes Flacco better.

It was something to consider on a warm Tuesday as Flacco fired strikes to his new receivers.