It’s a rare article where I’m not breaking down a WR prospect! Instead, it’s not one, but two TE prospects, two that in the sport of football are very close, in fact.
The NFL has never had two tight ends from the same school drafted in the first two rounds of a draft class, and that could change with the emergence of Iowa Hawkeyes Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson. Both players have received a significant amount of draft buzz, and this is without considering they succeeded former Hawkeye and current 49ers star tight end George Kittle.
Fant and Hockenson both expect to be drafted higher than Kittle—a fifth round pick in 2017—was, and look to help some TE needy teams in the NFL.
Now, HEAR ME OUT: I am not suggesting the Titans draft a tight end in the first round, and in fact I’d rather draft a wide receiver, edge rusher, or lineman with the 19th overall pick. However, if the Titans were to decide “Hey let’s draft a TE there” and wanted to choose between these two, that’s what this write up is here for.
First, let’s take a look at Fant. In his final season at Iowa, he had 39 catches for 518 yards and seven touchdowns, and was selected to First Team All-Big Ten.
Fant works well as a receiving tight end, and because of his route running ability (he’s shown here executing a nice chop move to create separation) and speed, he can also stretch the field vertically. This pass is slightly under thrown, but because of how much separation the tight end creates the quarterback is given a significant margin of error, and Fant turns on the jets anyway.
Here, Fant uses a more advanced technique to create separation; He runs into the linebacker then pushes off him on 3rd and 7 to give himself a soft spot, giving Iowa’s quarterback an easy completion.
As far as catch radius (first play) and yards after the catch (second play) are concerned, Fant does well in both areas. He doesn’t have an insane radius like, say, David Njoku, but he can catch the ball when asked to dive or use tight footwork on the sideline. And with his frame and speed he’s able to breakaway from tackles, making him a nice YAC option as well.
Now let’s look at T.J. Hockenson. Like Fant, Hockenson will be 22 later this season, and was also selected to the First Team All-Big Ten. In his final season at Iowa, Hockenson had 49 catches for 760 yards and six touchdowns.
Now, I left off Fant’s blocking ability on purpose so I could compare it with Hockenson’s. Fant’s blocking is perfectly fine, but Hockenson (If your team values blocking tight ends I guess...) is more of an athletic blocker. The power he possesses on this run block is so much so that he actually makes the defender trip his own teammate.
Now you’re playing with power.
Hockenson is more of a freak after the catch than Fant. He has the high hurdle you would associate with a guy like Travis Kelce, and he seems to be even tougher to bring down to boot.
And at the catch point I’m not sure it’s a fair comparison. Fant, like I said, is perfectly fine here, but Hockenson blows him out here. In the first play, Hockenson—running a simple go route in the red zone, executes a fantastic vertical leap and is able to high point the ball with his long arms against tight coverage, securing it and getting a foot in bounds for the score.
The second play is even better. Quarterback Nate Stanley tosses a 50/50 floater that stays in the air for a good decade. Hockenson is able to locate the ball, get behind the defender, box him out, and make a spectacular catch despite having hands all over him.
While I think Hockenson is more explosive as a blocker, at the catch point and after it, Fant’s ability as a route runner, as well as already having consistent hands, blocking and YAC ability, give him the edge imo. Both guys should be good picks in the NFL, but I feel with Fant’s advanced technique as a route runner he’s the “safer” pick. I will say that I’m more intrigued by Hockenson’s ceiling, and if he refines his route running he gets the edge.
With that said, I’d rather draft at a position the Titans really need, such as another WR, an edge guy, or a lineman.