T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant combine to make history in the NFL Draft

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Former Iowa tight ends Noah Fant (87) and T.J. Hockenson listen in the huddle. Photo by Jeff Yoder

By Pat Harty

IOWA CITY, Iowa - T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant combined to make 151 catches and score 29 touchdowns as tight ends for the Iowa football team.

On Thursday, they combined make history by becoming the first tight ends from the same team to be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.

History was made when the Denver Broncos selected Fant with the 20th pick overall in the first round.

Fant’s selection came 12 spots after the Detroit Lions had picked Hockenson with the eighth pick.

Besides making history together, Fant and Hockenson also join Dallas Clark as the only Iowa tight ends to be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.

Clark was picked 24th overall by the Indianapolis Colts in the 2003 draft and would go on to win a Super Bowl and make All-Pro with the Colts.

This marks the first time since the 1997 draft that two players from Iowa were taken in the first round.

Defensive back Tom Knight and offensive lineman Ross Verba were selected by Arizona and Green Bay with the ninth and 30th picks overall, respectively, in 1997.

Fant’s junior season was impressive from a statistical standpoint as he finished with 39 catches for 519 yards and a team-leading seven touchdown receptions.

He also achieved those numbers in just 12 games because Fant left the team prior to the Outback Bowl.

Fant’s problem is that he had 11 touchdown catches as a sophomore in 2017, so he was marked man when the 2018 season began. He also had set an incredibly high standard that was hard to live up to, especially with Hockenbson emerging as a star.

Hockenson without question benefitted from defenses paying extra attention to Fant when the 2018 season began, and Hockenson seized the moment.

He was also a more accomplished blocker than Fant, so rarely did Hockenson leave the field, whereas Fant spent extended periods on the bench this past season, much to the dismay and bewilderment to fans and to Fant’s older brother, who complained on Twitter during the season that Noah wasn’t being used enough.

It created an awkward situation, but Fant and Hockenson both seemed to handled it well for the most part.

They didn’t let it affect their performance on the field or their relationship as teammates.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. addressed Fant’s situation moments after Fant was selected in the draft, suggesting that what happened last season could motivate Fant in the NFL.

“I want to see if Noah Fant loves the game or plays it because he can,” Kiper said. “I think if he shows that and comes in with a little chip and says, ‘hey, Hockenson went top ten, I’m better and I think there is really going to be some good competition there.”

Hockenson is considered a more complete tight end, but the 6-foot-, 241-pound Fant has more quickness and speed that allows him to stretch defenses and make big plays.

“He’s a gifted athlete,” Kiper said of Fant, who is from Omaha, Neb. “He’s a stretch the middle receiving option in the passing game in the deep middle area.

Kiper also addressed some of his concerns about Fant.

“I thought he could get the job done as a blocker at times, but is consistent there,” Kiper said. “His concentration at times will cause a dropped pass, which shouldn't happen.”

Fant will be reunited in Denver with former Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell, who was selected by the Broncos in the fourth round of the 2018 draft.

The draft will continue on Friday in Nashville, Tenn., with rounds two and three followed by rounds four through seven on Saturday.

Former Iowa defensive end Anthony Nelson and former defensive back Amani Hooker could be selected on either day.

Nelson and Hooker, just like Hockenson and Fant, left school with eligibility remaining to declare for the draft.

The four players from Iowa are part of a growing trend of players who gave up college eligibility to pursue a professional career.

However, what separates Hockenson from his three former teammates is that he left Iowa with two seasons of eligibility remaining instead of just one.

Hockenson was redshirted as a true freshman in 2016 and then played two seasons in 2017 and 2018. But that was enough time for him to become one of the best tight ends in program history, and that is saying a lot, considering Iowa’s rich tradition at tight end.