IOWA CITY — T.J. Hockenson wore a black suit with a gold tie. He’ll probably always wear something black and gold, and he’ll do it underneath the Detroit Lions’ Honolulu blue and silver.
Noah Fant wore a bow tie. He won’t need that with the Denver Broncos, at least not on the field.
The Iowa tight end show happened.
Hockenson was picked No. 8 by the Detroit Lions in Thursday night’s NFL Draft. Twelve picks later, Fant was picked by the Broncos at No. 20.
It was the first time in NFL history two tight ends from the same school went in the first round.
When the possibility of the NFL started to rise for Hockenson, the question came up in interviews. A lot. Hockenson, a Chariton native, was a third-year sophomore last season. It wasn’t easy for him to leave Iowa with two years of eligibility remaining.
Almost every time he was asked, Hockenson’s answers were pained, but he jumped out of the plane and did so without a hint of regret.
“I want to push myself,” said Hockenson, who last fall won the Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end. “I want to see what I can do. I’m not in it for me. I want to see how far I can go, see what my work ethic does at the next level. My attitude, being a good teammate, things like that. ... I’m super excited to play this game as a job.”
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Fant, an Omaha, Neb., native, was more businesslike. He decided to forgo his senior year shortly after Iowa’s season finale. He also made the choice to not play in the Outback Bowl and then he became the story of the combine with a 4.5-second 40-yard dash at 249 pounds.
“This guy is a mismatch, he is an issue,” said Stanford coach David Shaw, who was part of NFL Network’s broadcast. “He is tall, he is long, he is fast, he is physical. This guy on little nickelbacks or safeties or linebackers, this guy is trouble. Quarterbacks will like this guy down the middle of the field.”
Hockenson and Fant are the eighth and ninth first-round selections during Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz’s 20 years. They also became the 10th and 11th tight ends drafted in the Ferentz era.
Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz talked about both tight ends this week.
“T.J. was a guy that had two offers when he committed to us, one was from us, one was from Iowa State and no one else was involved in it,” he said. “Wasn’t heralded, wasn’t heralded as recently at six months ago and now is looking at fulfilling his dream of playing in the NFL.”
And on Fant, “Noah had a few more offers but he wasn’t a national recruit, either. He was more of a regional guy. I guess UCLA was involved at the end, but it wasn’t like he had a million schools he was choosing from. It was pretty regional, and ultimately, he was the right person, too.”
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper kind of “went there” on Hockenson vs. Fant as Hawkeyes.
“He (Hockenson) really took over for Noah Fant,” Kiper said. “Noah Fant was supposed to be the guy. Nathan Stanley (Iowa QB) went to Hockenson. He really stole the show at tight end away from Noah Fant.”
Quick fact check: Hockenson played 780 snaps to Fant’s 491. Yes, a lot of those were running plays. Hockenson is the better blocker. In terms of production, they weren’t that far off. Hockenson caught 49 passes for 760 yards and six TDs. Fant had 39 catches for 519 yards and seven TDs. Hockenson got 64 targets; Fant 60.
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Tight end has been a bit of a struggle over the years for the Lions. Hockenson was just the ninth tight end to go in the first round of the last 11 NFL drafts, but the third tight end the Lions have picked in that round during that span.
Detroit had just 45 catches from tight end last season.
Hockenson’s blocking prowess was clearly coveted here. The Lions were 23rd in the NFL in rushing last year. They also signed former Penn State tight end Jesse James to a four-year, $28.5 million deal in free agency last month.
According to spotrac.com, Hockenson is in line for a four-year deal in the $20 million range with a $12.4 million signing bonus.
“He’s my favorite player in the draft,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “He’s not the best player, he’s my favorite player. Dominant in the run game, he’s a savvy, underrated route runner in my opinion.”
At pick No. 20, spotrac.com has Fant’s slot at $12.5 million on the contract and $7.1 million for the signing bonus.
“Noah Fant is an incredibly gifted and athletic tight end,” Broncos president of football operations/general manager/legendary Super Bowl-winning QB John Elway tweeted. “He’s got great speed and he can really stretch the field. We’re very fortunate to get him at 20.”
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