Noah Fant, T.J. Hockenson Will Look into Leaving Iowa Early for NFL
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa fans are enjoying watching the dynamic tight end duo of Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson this season. That’s good because it might be the last they see of them in a Hawkeye uniform.
Despite having more college eligibility after the 2018 campaign, they said Tuesday here at the football performance center that they’ll speak with the coaches after the season and seek their guidance in looking at the NFL. Players can ask for an evaluation from the draft advisory board in December, which will give them an idea where they might be selected.
Iowa lost two juniors to the pros last season. Center James Daniels and cornerback Josh Jackson were chosen in the second round.
The Hawkeyes are preparing for Friday’s regular-season finale against Nebraska (11 a.m. CT, FOX). They can turn their attention to early draft entrants after that.
Hockenson, who Monday was named a Mackey Award (nation’s top tight end) finalist, leads the Hawkeyes with 41 catches and 663 yards to go with six touchdowns. He’s a redshirt sophomore with two years of eligibility remaining.
“It’s definitely an option,” he said of the NFL. “Obviously I wouldn’t have an answer until the season is done. KF (Kirk Ferentz) and Brian (Ferentz), I still need to talk to them about everything. But I think that’s for the end of the season.”
Fant, who was a Mackey Award semifinalist, leads Iowa with seven touchdown receptions and his 19 career scoring grabs are the most in program history. He has 38 catches for 507 yards, second on the team.
“We’ll see what happens,” Fant said. “A lot of people are expecting me to leave and it all kind of depends on what’s given back to me (from the NFL Draft advisory board).”
Another guy who could have a shot at leaving early is junior defensive end Anthony Nelson. He’s already earned a degree. He has 7.5 sacks, one behind team leader A.J. Epenesa, who ranks second in the Big Ten.
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Nelson said he has not given any thought to leaving early.
“I’m just focused on this game and finishing the season, just finishing it out and see what bowl game we go to,” he said. “I haven’t really thought about the (NFL Draft) process at all. That’s something for after the season.”
Safety/linebacker Amani Hooker and left tackle Alaric Jackson could also check out what the advisory board has to say. Players with college eligibility remaining have until January 14th to declare for the draft.
The draft advisory board provides a great resource for these athletes. It’s direct feedback from the league as opposed to mock drafts published by people on the outside.
The mock drafts are what have people convinced Fant is gone. Most of them have him as the No. 1 tight end and as a first-round pick.
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“That’s all just mock drafts and you never know what can actually happen. I’m just going to see what happens. A good start would be getting my grade back from the draft advisory board and going from there,” he said.
Fant turned 21 on Tuesday, about four and a half months after Hockenson did. Nelson celebrated his 21st birthday in March. Hooker and Jackson were 20 in the summer.
INJURY REPORT: It sounds like the Hawkeyes are in pretty good shape, health wise, heading into the 12th game of the season.
“Injury-wise not a lot to report right now. There’s an outside chance we’ll get Brady Ross back. That probably won’t make headline news, but it will be great to get him back for at least some limited work if that’s possible at all,” coach Kirk Ferentz said.
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“But the rest of the guys got a couple nicks coming out of the game, and hopefully they’ll all have a chance to make it by Friday. We should know here in the next day or two, see what that looks like.”
Ross, the team’s starting fullback, has been sidelined since injuring his ankle at Indiana on Oct. 13. He traveled to Illinois last week and was out of his walking boot.
Running back Ivory Kelly-Martin did not play at Illinois. He’s been dealing with various injuries throughout the season.
CLARIFYING SPECIALIST COMMENT: Ferentz felt some blowback from the public when he called Fant a “specialist” last week. It was taken as a negative and as a way to explain why he only played nine second-half snaps against Northwestern on Nov. 10.
“I’ve floated the term specialist out there. It sounds like that gained some traction,” Ferentz said.
“But I guess my inference there was like, he runs like a specialist. There aren’t many tight ends I’ve ever seen or been around, certainly, live that can run like he can. He almost effortless when he runs. So it puts him in a little different category in my mind as a tight end. So he can take a 10- or 20-yard gain and he might go the distance with it, and he has done that.”
Fant played the first 25 offensive snaps at Illinois.