Iowa Set to Make NFL Draft History

By RossWB on April 25, 2019 at 3:51 pm
go, TJ and Noah
© Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019 NFL Draft gets underway today (7 PM CT; ESPN, ABC, NFL Network) and by the time the first round wraps up tonight, there's a very good chance that Iowa will have made history. Never before have two tight ends from the same school been selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. But there's a great chance that both T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant, Iowa's duo of dynamic tight ends, will both hear their names called tonight, making Iowa the first school to produce two tight end draft picks in the first round. 

If it happens, it will also buck recent trends surrounding tight ends in the NFL Draft. Only eight tight ends have been selected in the first round in the last 10 NFL Drafts. Only two of those tight ends have been taken higher than #20 overall, O.J. Howard (#19 in 2017 by Tampa Bay) and Eric Ebron (#10 in 2014). Ebron was also the last tight end to be taken in the Top 10, which is the same rarefied air that many mock drafts have T.J. Hockenson in heading into tonight's draft. The last tight end to be taken higher than #10 overall was Vernon Miller, taken at #6 by San Francisco in 2006. 

In fact, since 1969, only 11 tight ends have been taken higher than #10 in the draft. 

1969 #7 San Francisco 49ers Ted Kwalick Penn State
1972 #5 Denver Broncos Riley Odoms Houston
1972 #9 New York Jets Jerome Barkum Jackson State
1973 #6 Philadelphia Eagles Charle Young USC
1973 #7 Buffalo Bills Paul Seymour Michigan
1978 #7 San Francisco 49ers Ken MacAfee Notre Dame
1980 #7 Atlanta Falcons Junior Miller Nebraska
1995 #9 New York Jets Kyle Brady Penn State
1996 #9 Oakland Raiders Rickey Dudley Ohio State
2004 #6 Cleveland Browns Kellen Winslow (Jr.) Miami (FL)
2006 #6 San Francisco 49ers Vernon Davis Maryland

As the passing game continues to gain importance in the NFL, though, tight ends who can create match-up problems on defense have become more and more important and we're starting to see more attention paid to the tight end position. That's only going to benefit a place like Iowa, where tight ends have been (and will continue to be) a key part of the offensive identity for decades. 

There's some Iowa-specific history on the line tonight in the NFL Draft as well. If Hockenson or Fant are taken in the first round, they'll be the first Iowa player drafted in the first round since Brandon Scherff in 2015. While Hockenson is a popular pick in the Top 10, he probably won't be taken as high as Scherff, who went to the Washington Redskins at #5 overall in 2015. Scherff was Iowa's highest draft pick since Robert Gallery was taken at #2 overall by Oakland in 2004. 

If Fant and Hockenson are both drafted in the first round, it would be the first time Iowa has had two R1 picks in the Ferentz Era and the first time overall since 1997. That year defensive back Tom Knight was taken at #9 overall by the Arizona Cardinals and offensive lineman Ross Verba was taken at #30 overall by Green Bay. The only other year Iowa has had more than one player taken in the first round was 1986, when three Iowa players were selected. Chuck Long went to the Detroit Lions at #12 overall, Ronnie Harmon went to the Buffalo Bills at #16 overall, and Mike Haight went at #22 to the New York Jets. 

Assuming Hockenson and Fant are both taken in the first round, they'll be the eighth and ninth former players taken in the first round of the draft during Kirk Ferentz's 20 years in charge at Iowa. During that span of time, only five Big Ten teams have produced more first round picks than Iowa: Ohio State (29), Wisconsin (15), Michigan (12), Penn State (12), and Michigan State (8). (Fun fact: Nebraska has produced four first round picks in those 20 years, and just one since joining the Big Ten in 2011.) 

Of course, most of Iowa's first round picks under Kirk Ferentz have been linemen -- no surprise, given his rep as an offensive line guru. His first round picks include four offensive linemen (Gallery, Bryan Bulaga, Riley Reiff, and Brandon Scherff), a defensive lineman (Adrian Clayborn), a linebacker (Chad Greenway), and one other tight end (Dallas Clark). Fant and Hockenson figure to be the highest-drafted non-linemen since Chad Greenway went to Minnesota at #17 overall in 2006. One or both of Fant and Hockenson should become Iowa's highest-drafted non-lineman offensive player since Clark went to Indianapolis at #24 overall in 2003. And outside of Clark Iowa hasn't had a non-lineman offensive player taken in the first round since Long and Harmon were drafted way back in 1986.

So yeah: this year's NFL Draft figures to be some very heady territory for Iowa. Go and make some history, T.J. and Noah. 

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