MIAMI – George Kittle remembers the first time he knew tight end T.J. Hockenson was going to be a really good football player for the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Kittle was a senior in 2016 when Hockenson first got to Iowa as a freshman.
"T.J. is a hell of player," Kittle said at 49ers media availability Wednesday night in Miami. "I remember his first summer workouts, him and Noah (Denver rookie first-round pick Noah Fant) came in and it was the very first 7-on-7 drill and he completely Mossed a guy, ripped the ball right out of his hands and I was like, 'Well, good thing I'm graduating because he'll probably take my spot.'"
Kittle went on to catch 22 passes his senior year at Iowa for 314 yards and four touchdowns. He was a fifth-round pick by San Francisco the following offseason, and has gone on to become one of the best tight ends in the NFL in just his third season. He caught 85 passes for 1,053 yards and five touchdowns this season.
Hockenson redshirted at Iowa that 2016 season, but went on to have a terrific college career, and was the No. 8 overall pick by the Detroit Lions in 2019. He played in 12 games this past season before an ankle injury ended his rookie season prematurely. He finished with 32 receptions for 367 yards and a couple scores.
"He's incredibly gifted, and he knows that," Kittle said of Hockenson. "He's got a lot of great days ahead of him. Playing tight end as a rookie is tough. I wasn't very special my rookie year. It's not just X's and O's, you have to grow up a little bit, too."
As a rookie in 2017, Kittle caught 43 passes for 515 yards and two scores playing in 15 contests.
Kittle has stayed in touch with Hockenson throughout the years. In fact, when asked about Hockenson Wednesday night, Kittle smiled and said he was just talking with Hockenson before he started his media responsibilities that night.
"He's 21 or 22 years old. I figured it out when I was 25," Kittle said. "So, he's a little behind me, but I think he's going to figure it out just fine."