This offseason, Black Heart Gold Pants is undertaking the unenviable task of ranking the greatest players of the Kirk Ferentz era. From 1999-2019, we’re emptying the memory banks, popping in the highlight tapes, and embracing the controversy as we try to determine who stands out as the best of the best. We’ll start by ranking the top five players at every position group before moving on to the top 25 players regardless of position. Rankings are based on college performance and do not take professional success into account.
Iowa football has become a veritable tight end factory under head coach Kirk Ferentz. Between the runaway NFL success of George Kittle, the long and productive career of Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion Dallas Clark, and the two Hawkeye tight ends selected in the first round of the 2019 NFL draft (the first time one school has ever accomplished this feat), Iowa has established a reputation for producing productive college players and top-flight NFL draft prospects at this position. At a time when more and more schools are abandoning the pro set in favor of spread schemes, Iowa regularly deploys two-tight end packages and finds creative ways to incorporate these players into their offense.
Picking the best tight ends of the Ferentz era is a challenging proposition, but we gave it our best shot. The absence of “The People’s Tight End” George Kittle may raise a few eyebrows but remember that this list is based on college feats, not success at the professional level.
5. Brandon Myers (2005-2008)
In another life, Myers might have spent his whole career stuck behind Tony Moeaki, one of the most talented tight ends in program history whose college career was constantly derailed by injuries. Instead Myers was given a chance to play major snaps during Moeaki’s frequent stints on the injured list, and he more than made the most of those opportunities. A first-team All-Big Ten selection as a senior, Myers caught 34 passes for 441 yards and four touchdowns and parlayed a strong 2008 campaign into a solid NFL career.
Myers was not the most athletic tight end to come through Iowa but was arguably the most technically sound. The Prairie City-Monroe alum showed great hands, was an able run blocker, and was one of the best route runners I’ve seen at the tight end position. Myers was an absolute weapon on third down due to his ability to adjust to defensive coverages and find holes in opposing zones and became a real security blanket for Ricky Stanzi when the Hawkeyes went to the air. Myers may not have had the recruiting pedigree of some of his fellow Hawkeye tight ends, but he was one of the top players at his position as a senior and is more than deserving of a place on this list.
4. Scott Chandler (2003-2006)
Scott Chandler began his Iowa career as a wide receiver in the shadow of his older brother Nathan, Iowa’s starting QB in 2003. By the end of his tenure in Iowa City, the not-so-little brother had established himself as one of the best tight ends in program history. Despite never earning above second-team All-Conference honors, Chandler was consistently excellent over the course of his Hawkeye career, finishing with 1467 yards and 10 touchdowns while establishing himself as one of the most dangerous red zone weapons in college football as a senior.
Chandler’s imposing 6-7 frame made him an absolute matchup nightmare for opposing defensive backs. He had wide receiver ball skills and fantastic hands, both of which helped him produce a spectacularly memorable juggling catch against Iowa State.
Chandler’s 117 career receptions rank first in program history among tight ends, and from 2005-2006 he was consistently one of the most dangerous receiving weapons in the country at his position.
3. Noah Fant (2016-2018)
Noah Fant was a wide receiver in a tight end’s body. A 6-5, 232lb with 4.5 forty speed, Fant looked like he was designed in a lab to obliterate existing notions of what was possible at the tight end position. Fant could torch defensive backs deep and outjump/outmuscle anyone in the red zone. These skills helped Fant pull in 19 touchdown receptions over his three-year career in Iowa City, easily the most of any Hawkeye tight end and the fourth most in program history. BoilerHawk pointed out that nearly one out of every four of Fant’s catches produced a touchdown, which is absolutely incredible.
Fant never lived up to his potential as a blocker and the coaches often struggled to find the best way to operationalize his unique skillset, particularly once his running mate and co-first-team All-Big Ten choice T.J. Hockenson emerged as legitimate #1 option. Still, Fant’s production over the course of only three seasons (78 catches for 1083 yards) is undeniable, as were the impressive highlights he produced during his time in the black and gold.
Watching Fant beat Ohio State’s star defensive back Jordan Fuller deep
and absolutely embarrass Nebraska in 2017
are some of the most exciting highlights Iowa has produced in several years and speak to Fant’s exceptional and unique talent and his place on the pantheon of Iowa’s all-time great tight ends.
2. T.J. Hockenson (2017-2018)
T.J. Hockenson only played for two years at Iowa, and only spent one season in the starting lineup. But when you produce on the level of Hockenson’s sophomore season, it’s tough to argue with his inclusion on this list. In his All-American Mackey Award-winning season, Hockenson pulled in 49 catches for 760 yards and six touchdowns and produced arguably the most dominant season of any tight end in program history.
Hockenson was a true every down player at tight end who excelled as both a blocker and a pass catcher. His soft hands and incredible leaping ability made him impossible to cover on passing plays, and his physical, hard-nosed blocking made him a legitimate asset in the running game. His breakout performance came as a redshirt freshman when he scored two touchdowns against Ohio State, while his evisceration of Indiana the following year solidified him as one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the country.
Had he returned for his junior season, Hockenson likely could have contended for the top spot on this list. As it stands, however, he will have to “settle” for a #2 ranking.
1. Dallas Clark (2000-2002)
Dallas Clark played three years at Iowa and spent one of those seasons as a reserve linebacker. For Clark to have established such an unimpeachable legacy in such a short time speaks to just how dominant a player he was at the tight end position. Clark burst onto the scene in 2001 with his 38 catches for 539, but eviscerated all expectation the following year, earning Consensus All-American honors and winning the Mackey Award while catching 43 passes for 742. Clark was our unanimous pick for the #1 spot, and the superlatives from my colleagues speak to exactly how dominant he was as a collegiate tight end:
“A legend among heroes. He did it all at Iowa and outdid that as a pro. No doubter in my view.” – JpinIC
“I wanted to ‘hot take’ Noah Fant in the top spot but Clark’s two-year career at tight end is unassailable with a career 15.3 yards/reception.” -BoilerHawk
“Part of one of arguably the best Ferentz era team and has one of the most memorable moments of that season.” - tnels20
The “memorable moment” mentioned above came in the form of two plays against Purdue in 2002 which remain among the most iconic of the Ferentz era.
Iowa has produced several elite tight ends, but it was a no-brainer to put Clark at the top of this list.
BHGP Composite Rankings:
5. C.J. Fiedorowicz
4. Scott Chandler
3. Noah Fant
2. T.J. Hockenson
1. Dallas Clark
Fiedorowicz was the most physically imposing pass catcher to come through Iowa since Scott Chandler and narrowly edges out Myers and Tony Moeaki for the #5 spot on the composite list. Fiedorowicz totaled 91 catches for 899 yards and 10 touchdowns over the course of his career and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors as a senior in 2013.
Stop by next week to see our countdown of the top five wide receivers of the Ferentz era.