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Iowa Football Position Previews: Tight Ends

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Nebraska v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

In our seventh installment of position previews for the 2017 season, we take a look at Iowa’s tight end situation. For our other position previews, check out the landing page, or take a look below:

The Hawkeyes saw the departure of their best tight end in 2016 to the NFL, which means they have a big void to fill. The loss of George Kittle not only means that Iowa loses one of the most tenacious blocking tight ends the school has seen in recent memory, but also a solid receiving threat (22 receptions, 314 yards, 6 TD in 2016). Luckily, the team has a plethora of options to replace him this upcoming year.

The Situation Room

Iowa has eight tight ends on scholarship this year. On top of those guys on scholly, they’ve got a couple more tight ends that just hold walk-on designation. That’s 10 dang tight ends on the team in 2017! To help utilize some of that depth and the copious amount of weapons at their disposal (and likely because their wide receiver options look scarce), Kirk Ferentz’s first depth chart of the fall listed two starting tight ends. Let’s take a look at that depth chart and the scholarship situation as it currently stands.

TE1: Noah Fant (6’5”, 232); Nate Wieting (6’4”, 250)
TE2: T.J. Hockenson (6’5”, 243); Peter Pekar (6’4”, 252)

Tight End Scholarship Distribution

POS SR JR SO RS FR Incoming FR Total 2018 COMMITS 2019 COMMITS
POS SR JR SO RS FR Incoming FR Total 2018 COMMITS 2019 COMMITS
TE Jon Wisnieski; Peter Pekar Drew Cook; Noah Fant; Nate Vejvoda Shaun Beyer; TJ Hockenson Jacob Coons 8 Jack Plumb Anthony Torres Logan lee

Now, what can we expect out of these guys as Iowa gets set for the 2017 season? For some, their role and skill set will likely be obvious; for others, not so much.

The Kids Are Alright

Not only was it surprising to see that Iowa listed two starting tight ends on the depth chart at the beginning of fall camp, it’s semi-surprising that both starters were both freshmen last year. Maybe even more surprising than that? They both have the skill sets of pass-catching tight ends, while the prototypical blocking tight ends are listed behind them.

NOAH FANT (#87, Sophomore, 6’5”, 232 lb.)

Fant was a bit of an anomaly in 2016, as he was given the opportunity to see meaningful playing time during his true freshman season. When given the opportunity, he made the most of it - in 10 games, he caught nine balls for 70 yards and a touchdown.

The biggest question about Noah Fant is whether or not he can block. He has the speed and hands to be a great receiving tight end, but if he can’t become a serviceable blocker, then he might not be particularly useful for the Hawks outside of obvious passing downs. When Fant was on the field in 2016, Iowa was throwing the ball 66% of the time. That doesn’t bode well for a team that runs the ball more often than not, as teams will likely be looking for the pass when he enters the game.

Him working on his blocking can go a long way in helping the Hawkeyes be a little more unpredictable in 2017. If he’s at the top of the depth chart, you best believe the coaches think he has the potential to become solid as a run blocker.

T.J. HOCKENSON (#38, RS Freshman, 6’5”, 243 lb.)

Hockenson is the other young guy on the two-deeps during fall camp, and one who had quite a productive high school career. In his senior year, he totaled 81 receptions, 1,114 yards and 17 touchdowns, and he currently holds the record for most touchdowns in an Iowa high school career with 49. He was an absolute stud.

But now, as a redshirt freshman, he’s atop the depth charts after a solid spring game, where he led all players with four receptions. It doesn’t mean a whole lot, but it’s all we have to go off of in terms of in-game production at the collegiate level. It isn’t a worry as to whether or not he can catch the ball - his high school stats say he’s quite good at it - but whether or not he can block FBS defenders. If he can’t, he’s likely going to be used how Fant was used last year, but the fact that he leapfrogged two seniors for a top spot on the depth chart leads you to believe the coaching staff thinks he can be a solid blocker. Or maybe not. Who knows?

The Little Uglies

PETER PEKAR (#86, Senior, 6’4”, 252 lb.)

Pekar is basically just a sixth offensive lineman when he enters the game. He’s seen action in 14 different contests over the past two years (including every game in 2016), and in that timeframe, he’s caught just one pass for five yards, which came in last year’s blowout loss to Florida in the Outback Bowl. When he enters the game, it’s almost a given that the Hawkeyes will be running the ball - he played 369 snaps last year, 289 of which were running plays (78.3%). He figures to be an integral part of Iowa’s rushing attack this year, and hey, maybe he’ll catch a touchdown or two on a play-action pass on the goal line.

Hopefully he doesn’t miss the call to go out on the field.

NATE WIETING (#39, Senior, 6’4”, 250 lb.)

Wieting saw action in 10 games in 2016 and even got a few starts under his belt at one point, but didn’t record any statistics. He saw 118 snaps, 102 of which were running plays (86%). I wonder what Iowa will likely do when he’s on the field this season?

Next Men Up?

JON WISNIESKI (#81, Senior, 6’5”, 250 lb.)

Wisnieski’s role on the Hawks in 2017 is very much so up in the air, in large part due to injuries the tight end has dealt with during his collegiate career. The former four-star recruit tore his ACL in 2014 and sprained his MCL in 2016, causing him to miss most of those two seasons. In fact, he’s only played in four games as a Hawkeye and has not recorded statistics in any of them. He’ll likely see some playing time if someone ahead of him on the depth chart suffers an injury, or even just because he’s a senior this year, but he doesn’t figure to be a major part of the offense as of right now.

DREW COOK (#18, Sophomore, 6’5”, 235 lb.)

Iowa has turned quarterbacks into tight ends before, and Drew Cook hopes to join Dallas Clark, CJ Fiedorowicz, and his father, former Iowa great Marv Cook, as one of those success stories. Cook moved from quarterback to tight end at the end of spring practice earlier this year, so you wouldn’t figure him to be involved in the team’s plans in 2017, especially with the amount of depth in front of him. The biggest adjustment for him will be learning how to block, and even Ferentz says as much. Along with that, he could see limited action in 2017 if he can learn how to run routes and become a serviceable pass-catching tight end. It’s just not likely.

Break Glass In Case Of Emergency

NATE VEJVODA (#85, Sophomore, 6’5”, 245 lb.)
SHAUN BEYER (#42, RS Freshman, 6’5”, 222 lb.)
TOMMY KUJAWA (#86, Freshman, 6’3”, 220 lb.)
JACOB COONS (#88, Freshman, 6’3”, 220 lb.)

No, seriously. If these guys see the field in any meaningful capacity, it likely means that everything has gone wrong. Vejvoda saw a bit of playing time last year in six games, but it’s not certain what kind of impact he could have in 2017, as he recorded no stats in any of those games. Beyer made the switch from wide receiver to tight end after redshirting last season, so it’s unlikely he’s seasoned enough at the position to earn much playing time. Kujawa and Coons are both likely to redshirt during their freshman year.

Let’s hope they don’t need to break the glass.