Philadelphia, PA - Even though not many people think of them as legit Super Bowl contenders, the Minnesota Vikings have had a near-perfect season. They rule the NFC North, and the division is almost on the bag after 13 weeks, topping the Green Bay Packers for the first time in years.
The Vikings’ defense has regressed, yet it’s been good enough to keep them afloat more often than not. Their offense, however, has been way more balanced this season than during the Mike Zimmer era. Kirk Cousins isn’t an elite quarterback by any means. However, his offensive line has given him more time to operate, and the balance with the running game, thanks to Dalvin Cook, has been excellent as well. Nonetheless, even though there’s no denying that Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen are the undisputed no.1 and 2 in the passing game, TJ Hockenson’s addition has also been key to their recent success.
A Hard Working-TE
Prior to acquiring Hockenson in an unusual intra-division trade deadline move, the Minnesota Vikings ranked dead-last in yards per reception among their tight ends (7.3). They were used to having trustworthy pass-catchers at the TE position, so they needed someone they could get involved right away.
Notably, Hockenson made a great impression in the locker room by learning the playbook in just four days, showing unmatched commitment and work ethic and his desire to be a part of a winning culture. Besides, since Iowan is playing for one of the most popular NFL teams in Iowa, it also means a lot to a lot of people from his home state.
"It took me about four months to learn [this offense]," Kirk Cousins told ESPN after Hockenson’s Vikings debut. "He did it in like four days. So he's kind of making me look bad. Not one time in the huddle did I feel like he was looking at me like he didn't know what to do. Just very much on top of it [and] gave me a sense of ease as a result. ... He helped us today."
"We did not really dumb anything down," added HC Kevin O'Connell. "We didn’t have a separate offense when T.J. was in there. I am amazed at how prepared he was to play. I think it's a testament to his work ethic, his ability to retain a lot of information, and then obviously the coaching by Brian to just get with him and kind of be at his side for five, six days in a row in hopes of having him ready to go."
The former Detroit Lions star has now made 5 appearances (4 starts) for the Vikings, hauling in 30 receptions on 40 targets for 225 yards and one touchdown, developing instant rapport with Cousins, and also serving as an elite blocker.
Vikings Fly Under The Radar
Hockenson’s addition has been massive for the undervalued Vikings. Still, it seems like people continue to sleep on O’Connell’s team, mostly because they simply don’t trust Kirk Cousins to thrive against winning teams or when the lights are the brightest.
Even so, they’re sitting on a 10-2 record with wins over the Green Bay Packers, Buffalo Bills, and Miami Dolphins. So, even if their two losses have been embarrassing blowouts, what this team is doing cannot be overlooked.
The Vikings currently have the second-best record in all of football. They also have a generational talent at the wideout position in Justin Jefferson, a dominating force of nature that cannot be contained in man-to-man coverage.
So, hopefully, Hockenson’s relentless work ethic and determination to work on his craft will inspire the rest of his teammates to also be at their best. If that’s the case, then he might as well become the X-factor they needed to finally get over the hump.