Welcome, once again, to the BlackHeartGoldPants Film room. More video can be found on my YouTube page and if you want a more nuanced throwback to last season, my ‘Rewatch’ series posts are right here.
During Kirk Ferentz’s tenure, six Iowa tight ends have been drafted into the NFL. At least five others made rosters and practice squads in the professional league.
That draftee number just might be eight in the not-so-distant future. Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson both blew up last year, posting incredible seasons in an ultimately successful season for the Hawkeyes.
Their stats were impressive (Fant: 30 catches, 494 yards, 11 touchdowns; Hockenson: 24 catches, 320 yards, three touchdowns) but their impact was all over the field. Not to mention, they were durable too. Each played in all 13 of Iowa’s games and they were on the field quite a bit. Hockenson averaged right around 51.5 snaps per game while Fant averaged approximately 38.5.
Outside of the lineman, Akrum Wadley, Nick Easley and Nate Stanley, no one was on the field more than them. Let’s take a second and break down what makes them such special players.
#87 Noah Fant
Fant is the bigger prospect of the two, in part just because of how athletic the now-junior is.
Just check out some of his numbers during spring testing. They’re outlandish.
Iowa TE Noah Fant broke school records at the TE position during their early spring testing.— LJ Chaney (@pacificscouting) April 12, 2018
Vert: 42.1” (record)
Pro agility: 3.95 (record)
Fant was tied for first in the nation with 11 TD receptions among TEs. 2019 draft eligible.
Fant is about as versatile as you can possibly ask for in an athlete. Iowa put him in spread sets split out, they lined him up in the backfield and they, of course, used him in a natural tight end spot.
We’ll start with a bit of a gadget play. Fant is pulled back from the line and then put in motion. Twice last season, Stanley simply handed the ball off to Fant (Heres a link to one of them, if you’re curious), but in this case, early in the year, he’s simply being pulled in as an extra blocker.
He’s almost a fullback in this situation and at 6-foot-5, 232-pounds, he’s a runaway truck. Fant doesn’t make much of a block here, but I love the idea from Iowa’s offensive standpoint as much as I love how it shows his versatility.
Speaking of Fant being put in different situations, several times this year, Iowa went into what I called a “double stack” formation. I’m sure more enlightened football heads will have a more specific name for this, but I used to love when Burger King had Double Stackers and just.... nevermind.
Basically, Iowa took Fant and Hockenson and split them out, using them as blockers for Nick Easley and Matt VandeBerg, This play unfortunately gets blown up, but the idea is there.
(Unrelated but lol @ Wazzu beating USC, I forgot about that)
Fant is also a solid blocker and can be put just about anywhere to be successful. I’d argue it’s something he needs to work on, but as the NFL passes more and more, his catching ability will probably take precedence over his blocking ability.
That’s not to say his blocking is bad, it’s just that it’s something I think he needs a bit of work on. He does go to Iowa, after all, so blocking is something I’m going to assume he works on during the offseason.
In this instance, Fant is split out to the bottom left and puts a great block on the Nebraska CB. It’s a mismatch and Wadley takes advantage once he gets out of a messy backfield.
In this play, Fant (bottom of the screen, again) has a great kick-out block to set the edge. Hockenson is solid here too and Iowa gets a nice little gain.
The real reason you’re here, I suppose, is to watch Fant catch touchdowns. I just figured we’d start with some of the other stuff he can do.
His biggest game came during the Hawkeyes shellacking of the Cornhuskers (hey, did you know Iowa beat Nebraska 56-14??) in which he had three catches for 116 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
The man can move, folks. (And can you believe those very same Blackshirts wanted him to play defense? That’s criminal)
My favorite touchdown, however, was this absolutely beauty against Ohio State.
It was a first down, a place where Fant was especially dangerous last season. A third of his catches came on first down. The numbers? Ten total catches, 283 yards, four touchdowns, four first downs and five of those passes went for 25 yards or more.
This is one of those 25+ yard catches and Fant beats Ohio State’s Jordan Fuller (a pretty solid DB) and is able to haul in the catch well in bounds. Honestly this wasn’t just my favorite TD of Fant’s, it was probably my favorite all season.
Not everything about Fant is perfect, of course.
There were several times this season where the ball was a bit out of Fant’s hands and there’s the possibility he maybe probably coulda hauled it in. I couldn’t find any of those deep passes (there was at least three off the top of my head that I remembered and all looked as if they could go for scores), but I did find one miserable play that I’d almost forgotten about.
There’s a 100 reasons why Iowa lost to Northwestern, but this was a catch Fant absolutely needed to make.
So what can we expect out of Noah Fant next season? A lot, I think. He’s going to be a more complete player. He’s going to have a whole other offseason working with Nate Stanley and I think Iowa’s going to focus their offense more on this duo of talented tight ends.
Speaking of which, let’s dive into what makes the other part of that pair so dangerous.
#38 T.J. Hockenson
Of the two star Iowa tight ends, Hockenson is certainly the more unheralded. He didn’t receive quite as many touches, but certainly saw more time. Why? He’s the better blocker.
Standing at 6-foot-5, 241 pounds, the Chariton, Iowa, native is an absolute beast. He’ll be just a redshirt sophomore next season and isn’t afraid to dish out punishment. Watching him is a joy to us who love hard-nosed, multiple-use tight ends.
You want a player that finishes blocks? T.J. Effing Hockenson finishes his blocks.
Here, he meets the Purdue and almost single-handily reduces him to a quivering mass of jelly. Alright, maybe that’s a bit of hyperbole, but, still, you can’t deny the beauty of this.
Here he is with Tristan Wirfs destroying Nebraska and opening a big hole for Wadley. Even more impressive, really, is the fact the Hawkeyes are crammed into their own end zone.
There’s just about five plays you can run in this situation and they make the best of it here. These moments, really, are what tells me a lot about a player. This is a hard play to make for everyone involved and they nail it.
I like this next play, too. Hockenson and Nate Weiting (who is another tremendously underrated player and saw about 10 snaps per game last year) both shift. This causes the entire Nebraska defense to adjust and cheat towards the wide side of the field.
Weiting cuts back across the field, slides back across to the weakside and makes a critical block. Hockenson holds up his end just fine, but this was a third-and-eight situation. Nebraska had to be expecting a pass.
Instead, it gets one of Brian Ferentz’s better playcalls last season. The Cornhuskers had to have been worried about Hockenson — he’s SUPER dangerous in the red zone — and they pay for it.
(A slight aside: Hockenson had four catches inside the 20 this year — three went for scores. Fant is even more dangerous here, six of his 11 TDs came in the red zone)
There’s still work for Hockenson do, of course, and he certainly didn’t make every block this season. That said, he got much better as the season went along. Remember, he was playing in his first college games.
Here’s a play against Michigan State where he gets lost. To be fair, however, nearly everything went wrong offensively against the Spartans.
Let’s move on to Hockenson as a receiver.
One of the things that makes him so dangerous is simply the fact he’s on the same team as Noah Fant. It’s a nightmare for linebackers and creates mismatches for Iowa to take advantage of during the course of a game.
Another favorite series of plays were these two catches. The situation? The Hawkeyes and Buckeyes are knotted at 17-all and Iowa’s pinned deep in its own territory. Three plays after these two, the good guys are in the end zone.
They’re similar routes and Ohio State loses Hockenson both times.
Hockenson’s biggest offensive game was against Ohio State, where he ended with five catches for 71 yards and two of his three touchdowns.
Remember how I said he was fantastic in the red zone? Here’s one of those scores. Just watch as he breaks free at the line and finds the hole in the secondary. Stanley doesn’t waste much time in getting him the ball and just like that, Iowa’s up 17-10 on Ohio State.
If there’s something to harp on Hockenson as a receiver, it might be his inconsistency. He had three games with no catches and two with just one.
With Fant in the offense with him (remember, Iowa ran double tight end sets a massive amount of the time) this makes sense. Next year will bring more of the same, but without VandeBerg, there might be a few more catches to go around.
This depends on how much wide receivers Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith have developed, of course, and Nick Easley returns as well. Iowa, however, got real creative with its formations last season and as I mentioned before, there’s not a whole lot of players who were on the field more than Hockenson.
Iowa has one of the most dangerous combinations of tight ends in not only the Big Ten, but the nation. Considering the Hawkeye history of making the most of these players, we just might see even more big plays from each of these guys this season.
And that’s more than all right with me.