Yes, a pair of Iowa tight ends went in the top 20 picks of Thursday night’s NFL draft.
T.J. Hockenson went first and was chosen at No. 8 by the Detroit Lions. Noah Fant came off the board at No. 20 to the Denver Broncos, who had traded down 10 spots earlier in the draft with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The two Iowa tight ends were chosen before a single running back or wide receiver came off the board.
Before Fant and Hockenson, no other tight end teammates had gone in the first round of the same NFL draft.
The pair are also the first set of teammates who play the same offensive skill position (RB, WR, TE) to be drafted in the first round in 10 years. The last teammates who played the same position to go in the first round were Arkansas running backs Darren McFadden (No. 4, Oakland) and Felix Jones (No. 22, Dallas).
As Iowa finished 9-4 in 2018, Hockenson and Fant served as the team’s main downfield weapons. Hockenson had 49 catches for 760 yards and six touchdowns. He led Iowa with 15.5 yards per catch and led the team in total receiving yards. Fant had 39 catches for 419 yards and seven touchdowns. He was second on the team with 13.3 yards per catch.
Yet that’s just 78 catches combined among the two players. Twenty players in college football had 79 or more receptions themselves. Were Hockenson and Fant underutilized in Iowa’s run-heavy offense? Iowa averaged 37 rushing attempts a game to just 31 passing attempts.
You can bet that Detroit and Denver want to use each of their first-round picks more than Iowa did a year ago. As NFL teams throw the ball more and more, tight ends who can stretch the field and get open over the middle are extremely valuable. That’s why Fant and Hockenson, despite their relatively modest statistics, were each top-20 picks.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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