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. Noah Fant | 20. Andre Dillard | 19. Greedy Williams | 18. Dwayne Haskins | 17. Rashan Gary | 16. D.K. Metcalf | 15. Clelin Ferrell | 14. Florida OT Jawaan Taylor | 13. Byron Murphy | 12. Jonah Williams | 11. Devin White | 10. Kyler Murray | 9. Devin Bush Jr. | 8. Montez Sweat
7. Iowa TE T.J. Hockenson
6-foot-5, 251 pounds
Key stat: Hockenson only scored touchdowns in six of his 23 college games but had four two-score games, including at Minnesota this past season in which he ran for a score and caught a TD.
The skinny: Hockenson was a four-year starter (as a tight end and safety), earning all-state honors his final three years at tiny Chariton (Iowa) High School and grew up a fan of the Hawkeyes. He had only two other FBS offers – Eastern Michigan and Iowa State – and it took a while for Iowa to get involved on the three-star recruit, but he committed once they did. Hockenson redshirted the 2016 season as a freshman.
In 2017, Hockenson paired with Noah Fant to make a productive 1-2 punch in the Hawkeyes’ two-tight end system. Hockenson caught 24 passes for 320 yards (13.3-yard average) and three TDs in 13 games (12 starts) that season. But he broke out in a major way in 2018, catching 49 passes for 760 yards (15.5-yard average) with six touchdowns and rushing for a 4-yard TD in 13 starts, being named the John Mackey Award (nation’s top tight end) winner. Hockenson was also named Big Ten Tight End of the Year and first-team all-conference.
Hockenson, who turns 22 years old in July, opted to declare early for the 2019 NFL draft.
Upside: Rare two-phase threat as blocker and receiver. Most TE prospects enter the league adept at one and not the other, but Hockenson might be the best balance of the two to enter the league in the past several years. Still young in his development and hasn’t even scratched surface. Thrived in conservative offense that featured lots of “12 personnel” and was a first-down machine, despite Hawkeyes QBs completing less than 60 percent of their passes and ranked in the middle of the Big Ten in pass attempts the past two seasons.
Absolute dog in the run game – ferocious blocker who goes for the carotid artery. Takes on power ends and speed rushers alike and seeks to blast them out of the play. Finisher – blocks through the whistle and can bury people. Extends his arms and works to get proper body position. Racked up a stack of pancakes this past season. Effective backside cut blocker against bigger-bodied defenders (even 300-pound tackles) and can be a crucial element in a cutback run scheme. Great blocking on the move as wham blocker and even stalk blocker off the line.
— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) February 18, 2019
Good hands (dropped only one catchable target last season, per PFF) and natural pass catcher. Great body control on red-zone and jump-ball targets – can adjust mid-air to off-target throws and extend to high-point the ball. Terrific contact balance and can break tackles and maintain his momentum – actual YAC threat at position that features a lot of station-to-station receivers. Carries his weight extremely well and runs crisp routes at close to max speed. Will fight through press coverage and use defenders’ leverage against them. Good separation and burst. Stresses safeties with determined routes and can draw coverage to open things up for others.
Runs advanced route tree – not just the typical TE stuff but also over routes, deep crossers and the stutter-and-go. Plays fast and reacts quickly. Multi-positional threat. Lined up in-line, split wide, in slot, in motion, as H-back and I-formation fullback. Product of TE factory at Iowa that has produced nine NFL draft picks at the position under Kirk Ferentz –including Dallas Clark, George Kittle, Scott Chandler and others. Dream addition for offensive coordinator who doesn’t want to tip run or pass based on personnel packages.
Tough, versatile and willing to do what’s asked of him. Seldom leaves the field. Obsesses over correcting mistakes – perfectionist on and off the field. Gives NFL-caliber effort and plays with blue-collar mentality. High-floor, high-ceiling prospect – a Day 1 contributor at position that has been among the more slower-developing spots in the NFL in recent years.
Downside: Limited production and experience – only nine TDs in 23 college games, never led his team in receptions, only caught more than four passes in a game four times and only had more than 89 receiving yards in two career games. Good overall athleticism but tested below his former teammate, Fant, at the NFL scouting combine in most metrics. Possesses adequate speed, but hardly a burner. Still likely needs to fill out his frame and continue shaping and developing his frame. Lacks ideal bulk to thrive in the same mauler role he played at Iowa.
Can play a bit out of control at times. Will try to bash through defenders when it’s not necessary. Has dished out more pancakes than he’s been served, but there are times he was thrown out of the club when his blocking technique gets away from him. Will bury his head as a blocker, and that needs fixing. Pass blocking is less refined and consistent than his run blocking.
Needs to add more subtlety and nuance to his routes – can be a little too stop-start at the top of his stem, will gear down a tick and can drag his feet a bit. Right now, he’s a good receiver but perhaps not a game-changing one. It could take him a few seasons to develop fully in this regard and unleash his full playmaking potential.
Best-suited destination: In a draft year where there might only be a dozen high-end talents, Hockenson might not last long. It might be a fairly deep class at the position – deeper than most years, anyway – and like many of the prospects there Hockenson lacks great experience. But he’s easily the best two-way prospect and should be an immediate contributor as a blocker, and we believe he can establish himself as one of the best in this regard.
We could see teams that rely heavily on two-TE packages being especially interested in Hockenson’s services, and that could include the Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, Houston Texans, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills, Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers.
Fun fact: Hockenson was also a standout on the Chariton basketball team, averaging 19.8 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.6 blocks as a senior, helping lead his team to the state quarterfinals. In fact, the Iowa coaching staff took note of Hockenson’s hoops ability and factored it into his football projection.
“The first thing that caught our attention was his production both on the football field, but also on the basketball court,” Kirk Ferentz said last year. “... I’ll tell you, not that any parents are going to listen to me, but I’m so in favor of, and anybody I talk to that knows anything about athletics I think kind of feels the same way, especially guys that are coaching, our former players. The value of playing other sports is so underrated.”
They said it: “I can’t say enough good things about the Ferentzes. They’ve put me in this position. I love them to death. Coach Brian Ferentz has taught me a lot. Coach Kirk Ferentz is a mentor of mine, the person I strive to be. Just being part of that program is really special to me. They definitely talked about Coach [Bill] Belichick in the same culture. The culture that they’ve built at Iowa is so special.”
— An emotional Hockenson, at the combine
Player comp: George Kittle without the injury history
Expected draft range: Top-15 pick
More from Yahoo Sports: