Iowa Football

Iowa tight ends continue to put on a show

Fant and Hockenson are, for now, wait-and-see on the NFL, but their play is making it a possibility

Iowa Hawkeyes tight end T.J. Hockenson (left) celebrates his touchdown  with tight end Noah Fant during the first half of their Big Ten Conference college football game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn., on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes tight end T.J. Hockenson (left) celebrates his touchdown with tight end Noah Fant during the first half of their Big Ten Conference college football game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn., on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — It’s the time of year to enjoy the sleepy traits of turkey and ask really good football players if they plan to make the jump to the NFL.

So, will the world be drafting Iowa tight ends Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson in fantasy football next season?

“That’s a good question,” Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley said. “I honestly don’t play fantasy football. That’s a really good question, I don’t know.”

No one does. At least not officially or completely publicly.

Fant said he wants to hear from the NFL draft advisory committee. The junior from Omaha, Neb., who has four catches for 126 yards and two touchdowns in two games against Nebraska (4-7, 3-5 Big Ten), has seen mock drafts.

You see more and more mock drafts that list Fant as a first-rounder.

“That’s all just mock drafts,” said Fant, who has 38 catches for 507 yards and seven TDs this season. “You never know exactly what’s going to happen. It’ll start with getting my grade back from the NFL draft advisory board and going from there.”

Hockenson will talk with Iowa coaches and see what’s out there.

“It’s definitely an option,” said Hockenson, who currently is eighth in the Big Ten in receiving, which would be the highest finish for a tight end since Michigan’s Devin Funchess was eighth in 2013. “Obviously, I wouldn’t have an answer until the season is done. KF (Kirk Ferentz) and Brian (Ferentz), I still need to talk to them about everything. But I think that’s for the end of the season.”

So, the question was asked and not totally answered. No one has to declare their intentions right now. The deadline to apply for the NFL draft is Jan. 14.

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Plus, Iowa (7-4, 4-4) has two games to play this season, starting Friday with the Huskers, who’ve won four of their last five.

Expect the Iowa offense to continue to lean on a pair of tight ends who’ve contributed 20 of the Hawkeyes’ 38 passing plays of 20-plus yards this season (13 for Hockenson and seven for Fant).

Yes, Iowa routed a lot of electricity through Fant and Hockenson. That’s a huge reason why they both made the Mackey Award (nation’s top tight end) list of semifinalists. Hockenson advanced to finalist on Monday, becoming the second Hawkeye tight end to do so (Dallas Clark won the Mackey in 2002). Fant joined Tony Moeaki (2009) and Allen Reisner (2010) on the semifinalist list.

Stanley has been front and center for their growth from 2017 to Friday vs. the Huskers.

“They have a knack for getting open,” Stanley said. “They both use their bodies really well. They both know how to change speeds while running routes to allow them to build separation. But also it goes back to coach Brian making good play calls and maybe doing unorthodox things in certain situations to catch people off guard.”

An offense fueled — mostly fueled — by explosive plays from tight ends falls into the “exception rather than the rule” category. Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz grew his resume as the New England Patriots tight ends coach, which included Pro Bowl-caliber seasons from Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

Iowa has a long history with tight ends. Iowa can readily recruit tight ends. Iowa doesn’t often hit the jackpot with a pair of NFL-level tight ends in the same offense.

“Not every guy has the ability to do that,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Some guys can make the play and make the catch and get turned and all that, but to finish a play like these guys do, both these guys have the capability of, that’s a really unique thing.”

Can’t skip over the Fant/snap count deal that dominated headlines last week. Fant wasn’t in the game during crucial stretches of the second halves against Purdue and Northwestern. Kirk Ferentz used the term “specialist” in describing Fant.

That term got batted around by fans on social media.

“It sounds like that gained some traction,” Ferentz said.

He did explain his thinking.

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“My inference there was like, he runs like a specialist,” Ferentz said. “There aren’t many tight ends I’ve ever seen or been around, certainly, who can run like he can. He's almost effortless when he runs. So, it puts him in a little different category in my mind as a tight end.

“He can take a 10- or 20-yard gain and he might go the distance with it, and he has done that, and T.J. has done the same thing.”

So, this week, it’s about the cool things Fant and Hockenson have done and their NFL potential. By the way, Brian Ferentz had his tight ends study Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and Gronkowski in the offseason. The pair both mentioned Kelce and the way he runs his routes. Fant also loves Jimmy Graham’s game.

“I think I can relate to Kelce and Jimmy Graham,” Fant said. “I love the way they can run, catch the ball and make big, explosive plays. I think those guys are changing the game a little bit and changing the position.”

Hockenson hears a lot from former Hawkeye and current San Francisco 49er George Kittle.

“He usually has his opinions on what I could do,” Hockenson said with a laugh. “He’s a good mentor.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.