Yahoo Sports' top 2019 NFL draft prospects, No. 21: Iowa TE Noah Fant

Yahoo Sports

Leading up to the 2019 NFL draft, which starts April 25, Yahoo Sports will count down our top 100 overall prospects. We’ll count them down 10 at a time, followed by profiles on our top 30 overall players.

Previous entries: Nos. 100-91 | 90-81 | 80-71 | 70-61 | 60-51 | 50-41 | 40-31 | 30. Drew Lock | 29. Deandre Baker | 28. Taylor Rapp | 27. Garrett Bradbury | 26. Dexter Lawrence | 25. Jerry Tillery | 24. Josh Jacobs | 23. Christian Wilkins | 22. Cody Ford

21. Iowa TE Noah Fant

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6-foot-4, 249 pounds

Key stat: Two tight ends from the same school have never been picked in the same Round 1, but Fant and teammate T.J. Hockenson might be poised to do exactly that on April 25.

The skinny: The Omaha native was a two-time all-state pick as a tight end and defensive end, and he was recruited hard by Nebraska, but Fant ended up at Iowa in part for its sports medicine program. He played sparingly as a true freshman, catching nine passes for 70 yards and one TD in six contests that year before seeing his role expand. In 2017, Fant earned third-team all-Big Ten in catching 30 passes for 494 yards and 11 scores in 12 games (six starts), including two two-TD games in wins over Nebraska and Ohio State.

Despite starting only eight of the 12 games in which he played in 2018, Fant earned first-team All-Big Ten mention and was named third-team AP All-American despite the emergence of fellow Hawkeyes tight end T.J. Hockenson. Fant caught 39 passes for 519 yards and seven touchdowns last season despite a slow start and a cold finish.

Fant, who turns 22 in November, declared early and skipped Iowa’s bowl game to prepare for the 2019 NFL draft.

Iowa tight end Noah Fant runs a drill during the NFL scouting combine. (AP Photo)
Iowa tight end Noah Fant runs a drill during the NFL scouting combine. (AP Photo)

Upside: Excellent athletic traits for the position. Outstanding testing numbers that put him in the top 20th percentile at tight end, even outpacing many running backs and wide receivers on some speed and quickness drills. Great speed, route acceleration and fluidity as a receiver. Can be a mismatch piece – able to separate and uncover late and be a downfield weapon. Very good in the open space and dangerous after the catch. Will spear his way through the seam and carve up the middle of a defense.

Caught at least one pass in every game the past two seasons despite playing in a conservative offense that routinely ran the ball on third-and-medium. Still managed to average 14.7 yards per catch and total 18 TDs his final two seasons (24 games). Had a 12-game span between the 2017 and 2018 seasons in which he caught 14 TDs. Lined up in-line, flexed out wide, lined up in the slot and used in motion. Full-pattern receiver – was used on bubble screens, corner routes and second-level routes more often seen with wide receivers and talented receiving backs. Was even given occasional running chances on designed handoffs.

Good luck putting a linebacker on him in man to man. Watch him beautifully run a slot fade and haul in the score here against Indiana (0:42 mark).

Draws a lot of contact, even on plays where a flag isn’t thrown. Good at selling routes and faking defensive backs. Good catch radius and can snag balls outside his frame – check out this grab on a pass thrown behind Fant against Iowa State. (4:45 mark)

Effort blocker who has improved in this department. Not at all a lost cause — better pass blocking than run blocking but has a chance to be capable or better at both with proper coaching and development.

Downside: Production seldom matched his talent. Fant never caught more than five passes in a game and had only two 100-yard contests in college. Had 31 yards receiving or fewer in all but nine of his games. Concentration drops – hears footsteps and braces for contact before securing the grab. Should earn more “wins” in traffic than he does with his size and jumping ability (39.5-inch vertical).

Sometimes relies too much on natural ability and is lackadaisical with technique and route precision. Could stand to gain strength and competitiveness on high-point passes if he wants to carve out a red-zone role in the NFL. Situational awareness can be lacking – mental mistake late against Penn State led to a red-zone interception in what would end up being a one-score loss. (7:43 mark)

Lacks elite size and length. Blocking can be a sore spot. Lack of drive and technique as a run blocker is occasionally glaring. Works at it but just not effective enough, and it showed up quite a bit in a ground-heavy attack in college. Rushers can run around Fant as a pass blocker and cross his face – doesn’t engage his hands or move his feet well enough consistently. Fant’s subpar run blocking was not as much a question of effort (although he could stand to be more assertive at the point of attack) but more so one of flawed execution, and it cost him playing time.

Tensions arose amid Fant and the team when his brother, high school coach Chris Fant, vented on Twitter about Noah’s overall usage and his lack of playing time. Later in the season, Fant was nearly invisible in the second half of a loss to Northwestern, playing only nine of the offense’s 26 snaps.

Best-suited destination: A classic “move” tight end with strong receiving chops and athletic traits who is not at all useless as a blocker, but it’s an area in which he can and should improve. For now, though, Fant could add a diverse chess piece to a passing game as a big target and appears to have a decent amount of league appeal in both scouting and coaching circles. Coming from a program that has become something of a tight end factory under head coach Kirk Ferentz doesn’t hurt, either.

Among the teams that could use his skills include the Tennessee Titans, Green Bay Packers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Buffalo Bills, Arizona Cardinals, Detroit Lions, New York Jets, Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers, Houston Texans, Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots.

Facts: A biology major in college, Fant has said that outside of his ultimate dream to play in the NFL he wants to pursue sports medicine as a career.

"Eventually, I want to be an orthopedic surgeon," he said in 2016. "There are a lot of injuries in sports. I want to be that person who helps injured athletes get back to their dream of playing sports again."

Fant had a frightening incident in 2017 when he was threatened with a handgun in a public park in Omaha in 2017. A man, who reportedly was “highly intoxicated” and admitted to being the one who threatened Fant, was charged with terroristic threats and possessing a gun in a prohibited place.

They said it: “It was a hard decision. Honestly, it was one of those decisions that wasn’t easy. I talked to teams about that also. The chance of getting hurt, the chance of getting an injury. Also with the way we handle bowl games, it’s like another spring ball for bowl prep that could be tough on the body. It was a tough decision overall, but I talked to Coach Ferentz, I talked to my family and talked to my brother that I’m very close with and made my decision.”

— Fant at the combine, on his decision to leave school prior to the bowl game

Player comp: Jared Cook

Expected draft range: Late first round

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