The Iowa passing offense was... um, let's go with inconsistent... for much of last season. Nate Stanley was capable of completing 65% of his passes and dropping five touchdowns on Ohio State one week... and completing just 33% of his passes for 41 yards the very next week against Wisconsin. Highs and lows, folks. Highs and lows. But there was one unquestioned bright spot to Iowa's passing offense last year: Noah Fant.
Iowa's sophomore tight end had himself a season: 30 receptions, 494 receiving yards, 11 (!) touchdowns. He led the NCAA in yards per reception (16.5 yards per catch) and touchdowns (11) among tight ends. Those gaudy numbers didn't earn him much postseason recognition (beyond third-team All-Big Ten honors), but as we know, postseason recognition tends to skew towards players with pre-established names and players on the very best teams. We don't know how good Iowa as a whole will be, but the first issue shouldn't be a problem for Fant next year -- he's definitely going to be an established name when the season gets underway.
We know this because he's racking up the preseason recognition so far. Sporting News named him a preseason first-team All-American yesterday:
— Hawkeye Football (@HawkeyeFootball) July 3, 2018
Hawk Central's Chad Leistikow broke down what makes Fant such a formidable threat at tight end in a good article a few days ago. Part of it is his incredible physical gifts:
He’s set three of the four Ferentz-era team performance records for tight ends — the pro-agility drill; the 10-yard dash; and, most notably, the vertical jump.
His vertical leap of 42.1 inches during offseason testing would rank higher than any tight end at the NFL Combine in the past seven years.
Perhaps even more remarkably, it would've topped any jump recorded at this year's NBA Combine.
Fant has ups. But freakish athleticism alone isn't the reason why Fant has emerged as such a weapon at tight end. His route running and catching ability have improved rapidly in his first two seasons at Iowa and it's mouthwatering to consider how good he can be if he continues to improve in those areas.
The preseason attention and hype around Fant won't be lost on opposing defenses, either; they'll surely try to devise gameplans to slow him down and try to limit his effectiveness for Iowa. But that will be easier said than done -- how exactly do you cover a talent like Fant? He towers over defensive backs and he has the speed to blaze past linebackers. I'd expect that teams will try to be extra-physical with him at the line of scrimmage and try to slow him down there; once he gets into his route and into the open field, their odds of slowing him down will get much, much worse.
Regardless, the stage is set for Noah Fant to have an absolutely fantastic season this fall. (Sorry.) (Not sorry.) Skill players like him don't come along too often at Iowa, so we should absolutely relish him while we can. The Noah Fant hype train is picking up speed -- and it should be one hell of a ride.