There are football programs that rebuild after they lose a number of players to the NFL and there are programs that reload. For as long as Iowa has had a football program, they’ve had to rebuild after their best seasons. That remains true.
There are a few exceptions, however. And tight end is most certainly one of them. Over the years, Iowa has always found someone to fill in at tight end. While the shoes to be filled always seem incredibly big, the legacy continues to build on itself.
As Kirk Ferentz gets set to enter his 21st season with the Iowa Hawkeyes, he boasts a reputation as a tight end guru thanks to a history of putting guys in the NFL. In 20 seasons, KF has had 11 tight ends drafted and several more have signed free agent deals.
2019 - T.J. Hockenson & Noah Fant
2017 - George Kittle
2014 - C.J. Fiedorowicz
2010 - Tony Moeaki
2009 - Brandon Myers
2007 - Scott Chandler
2005 - Tony Jackson
2004 - Dallas Clark & Erik Jensen
2000 - Austin Wheatley
So as we look to 2019, the question is not whether the Hawkeyes will have a good tight end, it’s how many good tight ends they’ll utilize and just how good will they be?
Iowa released their official preseason depth chart last week and it came with a pretty significant change to the tight end position. Obviously there was no T.J. Hockenson or Noah Fant, and as sad as they may make Hawkeye fans, that wasn’t the surprising part. The surprise (at least to some) was that after adding the second starting tight end spot to accommodate those two superstars, we’re back to just one starting tight end spot this season.
The honor, for now, belongs to redshirt senior Nate Wieting. While Wieting is a fifth-year player, his career stat line doesn’t exactly scream “experienced”. Despite playing in 29 games across three seasons, he’s recorded just 3 career receptions for a grand total of 68 yards and no touchdowns.
Alas, Wieting is slated to be the starting tight end at Iowa so he’s on the preseason watch list for the Mackey Award. While it’s unlikely the Hawkeyes repeat as recipients of the award, Wieting does resemble Hockenson to a degree.
For starters, he wears #39 and if you squint a bit he looks like #38. That’s most true in the running game where Wieting is a very good in-line blocker. So good, in fact, he caused plenty of fuss among Iowa fans last year as he saw a good amount of time when the Hawkeyes were in 12 personnel, replacing Noah Fant to add blocking.
In the passing game, don’t expect Wieting to be as dynamic as Hock or Fant. But that’s not to say he can’t hold his own. He’ll certainly get plenty of opportunities, but his role will likely be more over the middle and on underneath patterns.
That leaves the vertical game - the role best played by Fant - for Shaun Beyer. He could be considered a starter given Iowa’s recent history using the second tight end. As it stands, though, they list only one starter on the official depth chart.
So that puts Beyer in the role of backup, but as I said, that’s really a technicality. Beyer will get a lot of work in Iowa’s offense - more than a lot of starters in other programs.
Of most interest to Iowa fans, Beyer will likely be the most heavily involved in the passing game. As discussed in the countdown to kickoff, the 6’5” Beyer came to Iowa by way of CR Kennedy as a wide receiver (sort of - he was also a tight end and linebacker and punter and utility player). He’s bulked up to 245 and now he’s an athletic guy with great size and a knack for catching the ball.
If that sounds familiar, go read a bio on George Kittle. While nobody should expect Beyer to be an All-Pro caliber tight end this season, the comps to Kittle and Fant should give fans an idea of the style of player they can expect with Iowa’s “#2” tight end. Not bad for a guy with more career tackles than catches.
This is where things get a bit murky for the Hawkeyes. With Fant and Hockenson both leaving early for the NFL, the depth behind the two top guys isn’t what it would otherwise be.
The top backup and guy most likely to see significant time is Drew Cook. Yes, Marv Cook’s kid. He’s a senior converted QB and he has a real chance to be a contributor. He’s a mix of Wieting and Beyer which is to say he can block and catch but he can’t quite do either as well as the guys in front of him. The question will be whether his ability to do both is enough to make him the type of tight end Iowa can use more often when they want to disguise what type of play they’re running.
Behind Cook, there’s nothing but freshmen. Literally, there are only two other scholarship tight ends and both are incoming true freshmen. Iowa originally signed three in this class, but four-star Orion, IL native Logan Lee has already moved to defensive end.
That may seem strange given the aforementioned lack of depth but it should tel you what the staff thinks about the other guys they have at the position. You don’t move a 4-star kid to the other side of the ball unless you’re comfortable you won’t need him at his original position.
The two freshmen who remain at tight end are also Illinois natives. Sam LaPorta, like Kittle and Beyer, is a converted wide receiver. Josiah Miamen, while officially a tight end in high school, spent most of his time split out wide running vertical routes and beating opposing defensive backs to jump balls.
Both have great frames and the potential to be very good at Iowa but both are likely to take advantage of the NCAA rule allowing players to participate in four games and still redshirt. If one of them doesn’t utilize the redshirt, Iowa has either had trouble with injuries or we’re all in for a real treat with a surprisingly good freshman. Only time will tell.