Hockenson, Fant draw early NFL buzz

Both former Iowa tight have quickly caught some eyes during their rookie campaigns, and they will try to produce better than recent first-round tight ends.


Katina Zentz

Iowa tight end Noah Fant breaks free from an attempted tackle by Purdue cornerback Kenneth Major during the Iowa/Purdue game at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind. on Saturday, November 3, 2018. The Boilermakers defeated the Hawkeyes 38-36.

Robert Read, Sports Reporter

Former Iowa tight ends T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant are not even into their first NFL training camps yet, but both have already generated some buzz.

For the Detroit Lions, Hockenson put together a highlight reel through the team’s minicamp and has stayed true to his Hawkeye roots with videos on the Lions’ website dedicated to his technique and aggression as a blocker.

Fant has caught the admiration of a seven-time Pro Bowler in his short time with the Denver Broncos. Linebacker Von Miller was asked which Bronco rookie had impressed him the most, and he immediately said Fant, reported the Athletic’s Nicki Jhabvala.

The early positive feedback is likely encouraging for the Lions and Broncos, because taking a tight end in the first round has been a mixed bag in the past. That’s not to say either was a bad pick; Hockenson was heralded as one of the safest prospects in the draft, and Fant was considered by many to be a steal at No. 20.

However, when players such as former Hawkeye George Kittle — who was drafted in the fifth round — can be found later in the draft, teams begin to hesitate taking tight ends early.

Hockenson and Fant have a lot to live up to based on their draft slots, especially given their position. Taking that into consideration, The Daily Iowan took a look at how first-round tight-end draft picks have fared over the past five drafts.

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Eric Ebron, 2014 — Detroit Lions

Ebron had 13 touchdown receptions last year for the Indianapolis Colts, more than his four-year total (11) in his disappointing stint with the Lions.

Never the red-zone threat that he now appears to be with Andrew Luck throwing him the ball, Ebron never seemed to be used properly in Detroit.

After a shaky start to his career, Ebron seems to be on the right path now, although Hockenson certainly hopes to get on the right side of Lion fans in a way Ebron never did.

O.J. Howard, 2017 — Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Howard, much like Ebron, got off to a somewhat slow start in his NFL career. He has missed time in each of his two seasons thus far. Last season, in the 10 games Howard played, he caught 5 touchdowns and led all tight ends with 16.6 yards per reception.

If Howard can consistently stay on the field and the Buccaneers can maintain a stable quarterback situation, Howard has the potential to live up to his draft spot and then some.

Evan Engram, 2017 — New York Giants

Engram got off to a quick start to his professional career, ranking fifth among all tight ends in receiving yards while hauling in 6 touchdowns

Although he missed five games in his sophomore campaign, Engram again proved to be a bright spot for a dysfunctional Giants organization.

With the quarterback position still up in the air in New York, Engram has the albeit brief history to suggest he will be a reliable target in the passing attack.

David Njoku, 2017 — Cleveland Browns

The thing holding Njoku back from taking the next step in the NFL has been his massively inconsistent hands. He ranked third in the league in dropped passes last season to pair with the sixth-worst drop rate.

Despite the inconsistency, Njoku caught 56 passes for 639 yards and 6 touchdowns for the Browns last season with Baker Mayfield under center.

Hayden Hurst, 2018 — Baltimore Ravens

Only drafted last year, it is still very early to diagnose how Hurst will perform as a Raven. He played in 12 games last year for Baltimore but didn’t start a game. He got off to a quick start in the preseason before undergoing surgery to repair a stress fracture in his foot.

He never got into a rhythm when he was on the field, catching only 13 passes, none of which came in the red zone.

The Ravens will look very different on the offensive side of the ball from recent years with Lamar Jackson firmly cemented as the starting quarterback, and Hurst will have a fresh start to contribute offensively.