By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa Given the unique circumstances, it seemed pretty clear before Friday’s announcement that tight end Noah Fant had played his last game as a member of the Iowa football team.
Fant announced on Friday that he would skip his senior season, and Iowa's upcoming bowl game, to enter the 2019 NFL Draft.
The Omaha, Neb., native projects as a possible first-round pick, and is coming off a regular season in which he played a diminished role despite performing at a level that earned him first-team All-Big Ten accolades.
"We are disappointed Noah will not be finishing the season with his teammates," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said in a release. "He is a tremendous athlete and we wish him the best as he pursues his goal of playing in the NFL."
Fant’s lack of playing time in some of the Big Ten games was a strange and controversial sidebar to this season, and a source of frustration for his older brother, who voiced his displeasure about Noah’s snap count on social media about midway through the season.
Ferentz referred to Fant as a specialist when pressed by the media for an explanation about Fant's limited role. Ferentz's use of the word specialist didn't sit well with some fans, but Fant never complained about his role or about his head coach calling him a specialist.
It seemed pretty obvious that Fant would leave early for the NFL once his brother started to complain on social media about Noah’s lack of playing time. And it seemed even more obvious that Fant would leave after Ferentz called him a specialist.
Fant defended his brother’s right to voice his opinion and he praised his brother for helping him become the player he is today.
Noah Fant said all the right things and never complained publicly about his role in the offense, but he didn’t seem to mind that his brother complained about it.
Fant’s relationship with the Iowa football team has run its course, and he should start cashing in on a sport where the time to earn life-changing money is precious and short.
The main reason to attend college is to improve your earning power in the job market, and Noah Fant has certainly accomplished that, even if he doesn’t graduate.
NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., has the 6-foot-5, 241-pound Fant ranked as the top tight end in the 2019 draft and 11th overall in his latest mock draft.
To put that in perspective, the 12th player selected in the 2018 NFL Draft signed a contract worth just under $13 million.
That is life-changing money, enough to where Fant could be financially secure forever if he doesn’t blow it on lavish spending and bad investments.
Fant would have taken a big risk by returning to Iowa for his senior season because of the injury factor.
And what more does he have to prove if he already projects as a first-round pick?
Some might accuse Fant of bailing on his teammates before the bowl game. And you wonder if that's what Ferentz was suggesting by saying in his statement that he was disappointed that Fant would not be finishing the season with his teammates.
But it's easy to question Fant's decision when you’re not in his position, and if you stand to benefit from him returning to Iowa for his senior season.
Fant has a chance to make more money over the next two or three years than most of us will make in a lifetime.
So why risk that rare chance by playing in a bowl game?
It now is time for Fant to get paid for playing a game that already has changed the course of his life.
The controversy over Fant’s snap count shouldn’t overshadow what he accomplished in three seasons under the Iowa coaches.
Fant is now in a position to be paid handsomely and the Iowa coaches deserve part of the credit for that.
It wasn’t always smooth sailing, but the Iowa coaches must have done something right, considering what Fant has accomplished in just three seasons. He leaves Iowa with over 1,000 career receiving yards and with 19 touchdown catches, including 18 over the past two seasons.
Fant also set the Iowa single-season record for touchdown catches for a tight end with 11 in 2017.
That is when the NFL probably took notice and now it’s time for Fant to get noticed in the NFL, and to get paid for it.
With Fant having made his decision, the focus now shifts to fellow Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson, who is one of the three finalists for the John Mackey Award, which goes to the nation's top collegiate tight end.
Hockenson still has two seasons of eligibility, while Fant only has one after not redshirting as a true freshman in 2016.
But it's the same with Hockenson in that you couldn't blame him, either, if he ultimately decides to enter the draft.
Hockenson's stock has been on the rise during this breakout season, and sometimes, you have to strike when you're hot.
Hockenson could add to his Hawkeye legacy by returning for his junior season, but he also wouldn't have Fant to help occupy defenders.
And that is something to consider.