Iowa Football

T.J. Hockenson, Noah Fant: Probable first-time first-round tight end twofer

In fact, no team ever put two TEs in first two rounds of same draft

Iowa tight ends T.J. Hockenson (left) and Noah Fant celebrate one of Hockenson's two first-half touchdowns during the Hawkeyes' 48-31 win over the Gophers last Oct. 6 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Fant went on to score in the third quarter. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Iowa tight ends T.J. Hockenson (left) and Noah Fant celebrate one of Hockenson's two first-half touchdowns during the Hawkeyes' 48-31 win over the Gophers last Oct. 6 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Fant went on to score in the third quarter. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

It’s a program that certainly doesn’t conjure the term “wild and crazy,” but Iowa Hawkeyes football occasionally has wacky aberrations.

Two that leap to mind are blocked field goals on the last two plays of the game to beat Northern Iowa in 2009 and the Hawkeyes’ 55-24 pummeling of sixth-ranked Ohio State in 2017.

It appears we’re about to see another Thursday night, though this one won’t catch us by surprise. If Iowa’s T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant are both first-round NFL draft picks, it will deviate from the norm in one way and fly in the face of the draft’s history in another.

The deviation: More than one tight end has gone in the first round just five times since 1998. Only two were first-rounders between 2011 and 2016.

The big-time aberration? No team has put two tight ends in the first round of the same draft. Fant was the coaches’ choice for first-team All-Big Ten at tight end last season while Hockenson was the media’s choice at that position and the league’s Tight End of the Year, so the oddity of having such an accomplished pair is old hat by now.

In 2013, Stanford had tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo go in the second and fourth rounds, respectively. Rice’s Vance McDonald and Luke Willson went in the second and fifth the same year.

However, I’ll give you 50 guesses to name the school with the highest-drafted tight end duo of all-time.

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Don’t bother. It was Morgan State. In 1970, Raymond Chester was a first-round pick of the Oakland Raiders. In the third round, the Baltimore Colts drafted Ara “Sonny” Person.

Chester and Person were Baltimore natives. Morgan State is in Baltimore. (Coincidentally, Iowa offensive coordinator/tight ends coach Brian Ferentz began his high school football career in Baltimore before his family moved to Iowa City for a football-releated reason.)

Morgan State had a 31-game winning streak stretching from 1965 to 1968. The program had at least two players drafted every year from 1966 to 1972, and five in 1968.

In 1970, Chester became Morgan State’s first (and only) first-round selection. He went on to play in 172 NFL regular-season games, catching 364 passes for 5,018 yards and 48 touchdowns. He was a first-team All-Pro in 1979.

Person played in four NFL games without a reception.

You never know how collegians will do as pros, no matter what draftniks insist. But the NFL teams mulling over Hockenson and Fant do have the knowledge of past performances of Iowa tight ends.

Two years ago, three tight ends went in the draft’s first round for the fourth time ever and first since 2002. O.J. Howard of Alabama, Evan Engram of Ole Miss and David Njoku of Miami formed the trio. None have disappointed.

In two seasons, Engram has 1,299 receiving yards, Njoku 1,025 and Howard 997. Howard has 11 touchdowns, Engram nine, Njoku eight.

But a fifth-round pick that same season was Iowa’s George Kittle, who has 22 more catches than any of those three first-rounders, 1,892 receiving yards, and a Pro Bowl appearance.

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Over all the drafts of Kirk Ferentz’s Iowa players — from 2000 to the present with at least one Hawkeye and usually three or more picked each year — the Hawkeyes are third in tight ends selected with nine. Miami and Notre Dame had 11 each. Penn State had eight, Wisconsin seven.

Nine tight ends and 17 offensive linemen drafted in that time is Iowa offense personified under Ferentz. Since 2000, Ohio State had 17 wide receivers and 10 running backs drafted. Michigan had 13 and four, Michigan State 10 and six, Wisconsin seven and nine, if you count three fullbacks.

The Hawkeyes? Just three wide receivers (Kevin Kasper, Kahlil Hill and Marvin McNutt) and two running backs (Ladell Betts, Shonn Greene).

Ah, but those tight ends. Dallas Clark, Scott Chandler, C.J. Fiedorowicz, Tony Moeaki, Brandon Myers and Kittle have a combined 13,972 receiving yards and 102 touchdowns in the NFL.

Whoever drafts Fant and Hockenson Thursday night should sleep peacefully afterward.

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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