Former Hawkeye tight ends set up for big seasons in NFL

The Iowa football program currently has five former Hawkeyes on NFL rosters, with three in starting roles.


Valerie Burke

Iowa tight end George Kittle celebrates after his touchdown during the Iowa-North Texas game in Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015. The Hawkeyes defeated the Mean Green, 62-16.

Ben Palya, Sports Reporter

In recent years, the University of Iowa football program has had many shouts to be called ‘Tight End U.’ From legends Dallas Clark to Scott Chandler, head coach Kirk Ferentz has always been one to value a tight end in his offense.

The emphasis on the position in Hawkeye football has given plenty of Iowa tight ends chances in the NFL.

There are five former Hawkeye tight ends in the NFL currently, with three — George Kittle, T.J. Hockenson, and Noah Fant —  being starters on their respective teams.

San Francisco’s Kittle has become a top tight end in the NFL in recent seasons. The two-time Pro-Bowler and 2019 All-Pro will be looking to get back to top form after suffering several injuries in the 2020-21 season.

Kittle suffered a MCL sprain in Week 1 of the 2020-21 season that kept him out for two weeks. He returned for Week 4 against the Philadelphia Eagles, but suffered a broken foot in Week 8 that kept him out all but two games for the rest of the season.

Overall, Kittle played in just eight of the 49ers’ 16 games.

When he was available, Kittle still had a high impact on the field in 2020-21. He finished with 634 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the eight-game span, including a 183-yard performance against the Eagles in Week 4.

CBS Sports sees Kittle as the second-best tight end in the league, behind Kansas City’s Travis Kelce.

As Kittle looks to continue his streak as one of the best tight ends in the game, San Francisco has both 2021 No. 3 draft pick Trey Lance and returning starter Jimmy Garoppolo in the hunt for the 49ers starting spot.

Right now, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan sees Garoppolo as the starter for 2021-22, but Lance has a chance to see time on the field next season.

In Detroit, Hockenson is coming off a strong 2020-21 season. The 23-year-old was a bright spot in the Lions offense in his sophomore NFL campaign.

RELATED: Former Hawkeye Noah Fant expected to be large part of Denver Broncos offense in 2021

Hockenson finished with 723 receiving yards and six touchdowns in 2020-21, doubling his production from his rookie season.

The former Hawkeye will have a new quarterback in former Los Angeles Rams starter Jared Goff.

In a trade before the 2021-22 season, the Rams sent Goff, two first round picks, and a third round pick to the Lions in exchange for Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford.

In 2021-22, Hockenson will be a main receiving target for Goff, as many of the Lions’ top receiving targets departed after the 2020-21 season.

Finally, Fant has an opportunity to continue his upward trend with the Denver Broncos. Fant improved his receiving yardage from 562 in his rookie season in 2019-20 to 673 in 2020-21, along with three touchdowns.

Fant has been a solid piece in the NFL for the Broncos throughout their inconsistent quarterback room, as five players took snaps behind center in 2020-21. For the 2021-22 season, former Carolina Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will battle Drew Lock for the starting quarterback position.

Denver also has threats such as Courtland Sutton and Jerry Juedy at wide receiver, but Fant is projected to be the Broncos’ starting tight end in 2021-22.

Meanwhile, 2021 undrafted free agent Shaun Beyer is experiencing his rookie training camp with Denver as its current fifth-string tight end.

Former Hawkeye Parker Hesse, who left the Hawkeyes in 2018, is third on the depth chart with the Atlanta Falcons after spending two years on the Tennessee Titans’ practice squad.

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