Before training camp even opened ahead of the 2019 season, expectations surrounding Jacob Hollister—he of eight career catches up to that point—were high. After the Seahawks’ OTAs in June, Brian Schottenheimer glowed over his new tight end, saying:
Terrific acquisition, he has had a great camp. The speed element is awesome, really good route-runner. A lot like Tyler in terms of the instincts, just the ability to get open. He has a great feel for coverages, man and zone, things like that… He has been a great acquisition, he really has.
Hollister went on to have a quiet camp and preseason, and was a part of Seattle’s cuts from 90 down to 53. The former Patriot would end up on the Seahawks’ practice squad, where he would spend the first five weeks of the regular season.
In Week 6, Hollister’s debut with Seattle, his responsibility would rise considerably. Will Dissly was lost for the rest of the season, just a few weeks after Nick Vannett was dealt to the Steelers. Luke Willson, who had returned to the Seahawks after Vannett’s exit, would presumably take the lead as a superior blocker. Hollister, however, was an injury away from being the de facto lead tight end in Seattle.
In the two games immediately following Dissly’s injury, Willson would indeed take that lead role. By Week 9, however, it was Hollister’s job and he flourished—starting in that week’s triumph over the Buccaneers, which saw Hollister score his first two career touchdowns, including an overtime winner. With or without Willson (who missed five games due to injury) in the lineup, Hollister was consistently the lone tight end in 11 personnel.
Despite his relatively small stature, at just 245 pounds, Hollister battled tremendously well in-line. Per Sports Info Solutions, over 175 blocking snaps, Hollister was at fault for just two blown blocks. Granted, the Seahawks weren’t using him at the point of attack like they would with Dissly, Willson or George Fant. But, whether it was on the backside or helping Duane Brown or Germain Ifedi on the edge, Hollister proved to be reliable.
The former quarterback was punching well above his weight at the line of scrimmage, but that isn’t where he made the biggest impact.
While Russell Wilson and Tyler Lockett continued to be one of the surest connections in the sport, Wilson targeting Hollister in the flat quickly became a safe bet, too. Of Hollister’s 59 targets in 2019, 21 came on routes to the flat, corner or sideline (out). Hollister was so effective on out-breaking routes, in part, because of the burst advantage he had over opposing safeties and linebackers.
Further downfield, Hollister consistently proved to be tough at the catch point and had an ability to utilize a solid catch radius to haul in lofted tosses from Wilson.
The most tantalizing part of Wilson and Hollister’s connection in the flat, however, was the latter’s fluidity after the catch. During the second-half of the season, Seattle would consistently hit the tight end in that area off a play-action bootleg. Hollister would be in acres of space, fluidly turn up the sideline and create yards. His inability to break tackles—he broke just three all season—always left one wanting more, though.
After beginning the season on the practice squad and forced into the lineup through injuries, Hollister impressed in 2019. Not only did he give Wilson a tertiary option as David Moore’s development stalled, but he allowed the Seahawks to continue to utilize 11 personnel and depend on their tight ends to block as they so often do. Ultimately, he is limited as a blocker and depends on being thrown into space as a pass-catcher to create after the catch. For where Hollister began the season—and for where Seattle was at the position when they called upon him—2019 can only be seen as a positive for him.
Now, Hollister will hit restricted free agency, after a season in which he finally established himself as an NFL-caliber tight end, and a player capable of staying healthy. Logic would suggest the Seahawks will place a second-round tender on Hollister, all but assuring he returns to Seattle in 2020. With Dissly back and tight end reinforcements surely on the way, Hollister will be able to carve out a role that allows him to be the reliable, short and intermediate threat he proved to be, without overextending him as an undersized in-line blocker.
Even after a solid 2019 with 41 catches, 349 yards and three touchdowns, we may be yet to see the best of Hollister.