Vikings TE T.J. Hockenson believes low hits ‘something the league needs’ to look into

Minnesota Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson has spent the past five months thinking about the season-ending knee injury he suffered late in the 2023 season. His takeaway: Vulnerable offensive players are not protected the way they need to be.

Hockenson suffered a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee during the Vikings’ Week 16 game against the Lions. It was hard enough that the injury came against his former team, on a hit delivered by his former teammate, safety Kerby Joseph. But the fact that it occurred so late in the year, Hockenson now could miss the start of the 2024 NFL season.

“Obviously, I wasn’t too happy about it,” he said at the start of Lions’ voluntary offseason workout on Monday, via ESPN.

Hockenson believes there’s a double standard at work with the current NFL rules, with offensive players often flagged for low cut blocks but defensive players able to hit ball carriers at the knee or below. Neither the hit by Joseph on Hockenson nor the one Joseph delivered on the Rams’ Tyler Higbee a few weeks later in the playoffs were flagged for a penalty.

“It’s tough,” Hockenson said. “It really is. We’re big guys running through the middle of the field. This is a business, and I don’t think anyone goes out on the field wanting to injure a player like that. So, I’m looking at the light of that and hoping that’s not what the intent was, to injure a player in that sense. But I think to have it happen a couple weeks later [with Higbee], I think that’s something the league needs to look and see what it can do.”

Although Hockenson didn’t suggest his former teammate Joseph was intentionally trying to hurt him on the play, the tight end feels something needs to change, ideally where players can also help players out.

“I know Kerby pretty well,” Hockenson said. “I’ve played with him. I don’t necessarily think it was [intended to injure]. You go back on the tape and you see what happened. I know him. I don’t think it was.

“I just want to make sure it wasn’t, and that’s why I’m using my voice here. Players protect players. That’s in any facet of the league. You don’t want a defensive guy head-hunting or knee-hunting, and the same thing for an offensive guy.”

Hockenson said he even wishes Joseph went too high on the hit, as opposed to too low — even at the risk of suffering a concussion.

“That puts me out two weeks or three weeks,” Hockenson said. “This put me out nine months. I can’t even train.

“I would have had a normal offseason getting ready for the season. I know some (concussions) are worse than others and I don’t want to go down that train of what’s worse and what’s better. But I’ve had a concussion. It took me a week. I’m just looking at it from that pure timetable.”

There’s no clear timetable for Hockenson’s return to the field. A nine-month recovery period would have him back in late September or early October.

Hockenson, 26, turned in career highs in receptions (95) and receiving yards (960), catching five touchdowns as well despite missing two games last season.

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