What Ripple Effect Could T.J. Hockenson's Injury Have on the 2024 Vikings?

Photo Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

One of the reasons why the NFL is so popular is that one play can change everything.

Minnesota Vikings fans know this too well. Gary Anderson’s missed field goal in the 1998 NFC Championship game kept one of the best offenses ever from playing in the Super Bowl. Stefon Diggs and Case Keenum are long gone, but their role in the Minneapolis Miracle has them embedded in Vikings history.

There are other examples that Vikings fans can show to prove that a single play can have a butterfly effect. The most recent may be when T.J. Hockenson suffered a multi-ligament knee injury last Christmas Eve.

Kerby Joseph‘s hit added another injury to a team limping toward the end of a 7-10 season. However, Hockenson’s injury didn’t just leave the 2023 Vikings without one of their key weapons; it could also affect whether the 2024 Vikings return to the playoffs or take a step closer to a complete rebuild.

Hockenson’s effect on the offense can not be overstated. The Vikings traded a 2023 second-round pick and a 2024 fourth-rounder in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round pick and a conditional 2024 fourth-round selection to acquire Hockenson at the 2022 trade deadline. He instantly became one of the NFL’s best tight ends.

Since arriving in Minnesota, Hockenson ranks second behind Travis Kelce with 155 catches and 1,479 yards. He also has caught eight touchdowns, making him an elite red-zone target for whoever is playing quarterback.

The Vikings’ offense was always going to be in a bind without Hockenson, who serves as Minnesota’s No. 2 “receiver.” By joining Justin Jefferson and Jordan Addison, Hockenson is one of the reasons why people considered the Vikings to be the best landing place for a rookie quarterback. It’s also why Kevin O’Connell and his staff believe J.J. McCarthy has the tools to succeed.

That’s why Hockenson’s injury is so devastating in the short term. While ACLs were career-ending injuries in the 1980s and early ‘90s, recovery has become routine, albeit with a lengthy timeframe. However, the addition of a torn MCL significantly compounded Hockenson’s woes and put his availability for the start of the 2024 season in jeopardy.

When talking to reporters last month, Hockenson was optimistic about his rehab process, although he didn’t seem confident about his Week 1 status. While Vikings fans may have assumed that Hockenson would miss a week or two, the Star Tribune’s Ben Goessling speculated that Hockenson could begin the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list and miss the first six games before making his debut in Week 8 against the Detroit Lions.

That creates an even bigger problem — just look at the schedule. The Vikings open the season in a challenging environment, heading to MetLife Stadium to take on the New York Giants. Then, they begin a stretch of games against five 2023 playoff teams in six weeks. The lone exception is a trip to London to face Aaron Rodgers on a neutral field.

If Hockenson’s injury remains on that timeline, the Vikings could run the gauntlet without one of their top weapons. It would mean that Addison, who had a strong rookie season with 70 catches for 911 yards and 10 touchdowns, could be in for a big start. A WR3 like Brandon Powell also would have to take on a bigger role.

That would throw a wrench into the grinding gears of O’Connell’s offense. With Hockenson, Jefferson, and Addison in the lineup, K.J. Osborn was the player who did the dirty work that created space for other receivers. Therefore, Jefferson or Addison may have to play that role more, which is a problem considering they don’t have the run-blocking ability that Osborn displayed over the past two seasons.

It also could mean we see more from Minnesota’s backfield. The Vikings tried to use Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison as multi-dimensional threats. However, the running game never got going, and their screen game was one of the worst in the NFL. Adding Aaron Jones should help, but he may have an even bigger workload as they try to compensate for Hockenson’s loss in the passing game.

A shorthanded offense entering a tough run in the schedule is challenging enough. Still, Hockenson’s absence may also impact Minnesota’s plans off the field.

Vikings fans are eager to see McCarthy try his hand as the starting quarterback. However, Hockenson’s injury may force O’Connell to be even more patient. While there are still plenty of weapons for McCarthy to use, the Vikings may decide to wait until his full arsenal is available and McCarthy establishes a rapport with Hockenson.

The Vikings were already likely to deploy six weeks of Sam Darnold due to the construction of their schedule. Still, Hockenson’s injury could leave McCarthy on the bench until November or even December as he gets used to his new surroundings.

A slow start could also cause a ripple effect in Minnesota’s brain trust. O’Connell and Kwesi Adofo-Mensah are entering the third year of four-year contracts signed in 2022. Another sub-.500 season may test the Wilfs’ patience.

Would Adofo-Mensah be on the hot seat if the Vikings go 7-10 and McCarthy doesn’t start for the Vikings next season? Or would Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell enter the final year of their contracts needing a playoff appearance to save their jobs in 2025?

Joseph’s low hit that knocked Hockenson out of the game on Christmas Eve caused all this. It seemed like a conspicuous play and a speed bump on the way to the 2024 season. However, this is the NFL, where one play can change everything.

The Vikings and Falcons Ended Up Indirectly Swapping Picks In This Year’s Draft
By Tom Schreier - Jun 20, 2024
Michael Jurgens Brings Versatility To the Vikings’ Interior
By Matt Fries - Jun 19, 2024

The Daunte Culpepper Plan Is the Best Trajectory for J.J. McCarthy

Photo Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to quarterback development, there’s one plan that stands above the rest. The Kansas City Chiefs selected Patrick Mahomes in the first round of the […]

Continue Reading