POSITIONAL AWARENESS 2017: PLENTY OF POTENTIAL AT TIGHT END

By Mike Jones on August 2, 2017 at 2:59 pm
FANT

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

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Positional Awareness is our annual rundown of the Iowa depth chart, from the position where we are most confident in what Kirk Ferentz intends to do to, well, wide receiver.

Previously on Positional Awareness:

  1. Linebacker
  2. Running Back
  3. Offensive Line
  4. Cornerback
  5. Defensive Tackle
  6. Safety
  7. Defensive End
  8. Quarterback
Eligibility Remaining  
No. Player Year Ht/Wt. Position 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
81 Jon Wisnieski SR 6-5/250 Tight End          
86 Peter Pekar SR 6-4/252 Tight End          
18 Drew Cook SO 6-5/235 Tight End          
39 Nate Wieting SO 6-4/250 Tight End          
85 Nate Vejvoda SO 6-5/245 Tight End          
87 Noah Fant SO 6-5/232 Tight End          
38 T.J. Hockenson FR(RS) 6-5/243 Tight End          
42 Shaun Beyer FR(RS) 6-5/222 Tight End          
86 Tommy Kujawa FR 6-3/220 Tight End          
88 Jacob Coons FR 6-3/220 Tight End          

One of the more curious aspects of the 2017 Media Guide/training camp depth chart was the listing of two tight end starters. The depth chart of the Greg Davis era customarily listed three starting wide receivers and only one tight end. This could be interpreted one of two ways. First, it could be seen as Brian Ferentz’s offense returning to the Ken O’Keefe days of utilizing more two tight end sets. Alternatively, it could be seen as a “we aren’t totally comfortable filling out a wide receiver depth chart so here’s a bunch of tight ends.” In reality, it’s probably a little bit of both. 

THE ORACLE OF OMAHA

TE1: NOAH FANT (#87, Sophomore, 6'5, 232 lbs., South HS, Omaha, NE)

If we’re going by hype and scholarship offers, Noah Fant was the first legitimate tight end commitment since Ray Hamilton in 2011. It’s true that recruiting agencies only awarded him 3-stars but he had scholarship offers from Arizona State, Cal, Minnesota, Nebraska, UCLA and was the best recruit out of Nebraska. So when he announced his commitment to Iowa and signed with the Hawkeyes (over Nebraska) in 2016, it came as a surprise to most.

It was also surprising to see Fant play in 11 games last season and see a significant amount of targets as a true freshman. In those 11 games he amassed 70 yards and one touchdown, seen here against Purdue (it was overturned from incomplete to complete):

It should be said now: Fant always has been and always will be a pass catching tight end. He’s put on 15-20 pounds since signing with Iowa but don’t expect him to bulk up to C.J. Fiedorowicz’s size. Expect him to be in the mold of Dallas Clark. The size and athleticism are there. As Matt VandeBerg had to say:

“He’s a guy who is moving along…Noah has put on 10, 15, 20 pounds. He’s starting to look more like a Big Ten tight end. He’s a freak athletically. His athleticism is unmatched at that size.”

The question will be: can he block? Marc Morehouse said that “Fant played 129 snaps last season, with 85 of those coming on pass plays.” When Iowa ran the ball last season, Fant was usually on the sideline as Iowa favored the bulkier frames of George Kittle or Peter Pekar. There’s no question that Fant can stretch the field and provide a reliable target for a team that has more than a few question marks at wide-receiver.  But Kirk Ferentz, Brian Ferentz, and LeVar Woods want a tight end that can block. 

If Noah Fant is to have a breakout season as a Hawkeye, he needs to do what LeVar Woods says and “refine his technique.” I’d go so far as to say that the ability to block as a tight end determines your level of playing time for Iowa. As a team that’s going to rely heavily on the run this season, Fant will need to show that he can shoulder the load in the running game to also see time in the passing game. If he can do that, expect good things.

THE RECORD HOLDER

TE2: T.J. HOCKENSON (#38, Freshman (RS), 6'5, 243 lbs., Chariton, Chariton, IA)

If you found it odd that Iowa listed two tight ends as starters in its depth chart you might find it even odder that they list two pass catching tight ends as starters. Hockenson was a lightly recruited 3-star recruit with his only other FBS offer coming from Iowa State. This was odd considering he recorded 73 receptions, 1,116 yards and 18 touchdowns as a junior and 81 receptions, 1,114 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior. By the time he graduated he held Iowa high school records in career touchdown receptions (49) and pass receptions (238). By comparison, Oliver Martin had 33 career touchdown receptions, Allen Lazard had 29, Keenan Davis had 26 and Todd Blythe had 25. His receptions record only stood for one year, as Oliver Martin beat it by one (1!), setting the record at 239.

Despite these numbers (even against 3-A schools), no one else came knocking and Hockenson signed with Iowa. He redshirted, put on 20+ pounds and played with the first team in Iowa’s 2017 spring game, notching four receptions. He’s now your #2 tight end, as a redshirt freshman, which should tell you what coaches think about him. Like Fant, the question isn’t if he can catch the ball or stretch the field, it’s can he block? With his only appearance being the spring game, the jury is still out on what type of player he looks like. His high school numbers were darn impressive, no question.  But this is Division I football, brother. It’s a whole ‘nother ball game. 

WHILE YOU WAIT FOR THE OTHERS

TE3: NATE WIETING (#39, Sophomore, 6'4, 250 lbs., Lutheran, Rockford, IL)

TE4: PETER PEKAR (#86, Senior, 6'4, 252 lbs., Greendale, Greendale, WI)

Fun fact: Did you know that Nate Wieting started three games last season? No seriously. His stat line was ERROR: FILE NOT FOUND. Wietling is Iowa’s prototypical blocking tight end. He joined the program as a walk-on, redshirted, put on 25+ pounds and saw the field in 2016 for the sole purpose of being a third blocker. He played in 10 games last season. He recorded zero statistics.

While we’re talking about blocking, the ultimate blocking tight end on this year’s squad is Peter Pekar. He's like the Michael Corleone of blocking tight ends. He’s actually Iowa’s most experienced tight end as it pertains to starts. He started seven games last season and played in 10 games overall. His stat line was one reception for five yards. In fact, in his four years with the program, that’s the entirety of his stat line: one reception for five yards. Morehouse tallied that “Pekar played 369 snaps last season, 289 of which were running plays.”

We’re living in bizarro world. Iowa’s depth chart has two pass catching tight ends as starters and two blocking tight ends as #3 and #4. We know what we’re getting with Wieting and Pekar: moderately more athletic offensive tackles. End of story.

JON WISNIESKI (#81, Senior, 6'5, 250 lbs., Dowling, West Des Moines, IA)

The most snake bitten tight end on the roster has to be Jon Wisnieski. A 3-star tight end out of West Des Moines, he was the second best player out of Iowa in 2013 and passed on Iowa State, Kansas State, Ole Miss, Nebraska and Purdue to sign with Iowa. He redshirted his freshman year and tore his ACL in 2014. After missing the entire 2014 season he saw sporadic playing time in 2015 and suffered an MCL sprain in early 2016. He wasn’t able to recover until mid way through last season but by then, the hierarchy at tight end was clear. The good news for Wisnieski is that he’s healthy. Where he fits in 2017 is TBD.

DREW COOK (#18, Sophomore, 6'5, 235 lbs., Regina, Iowa City, IA)

Did you know Drew Cook is Marv Cook’s son? I hadn’t heard.

So here’s the story. Cook was a superstar quarterback for Regina, leading them to four (count ‘em, FOUR) straight state championships. He signed with Iowa, redshirted, and found himself buried on the depth chart in 2016. This spring, Kirk Ferentz convinced Cook to move to his father’s old position and to give tight end a shot. Cook said OK, so now he’s a tight end. He’s 6-5, 235 pounds, so he has good size. He’s also Marv Cook’s son (if you hadn’t heard) so he has a good pedigree. How he adjusts to the position is up in the air.

NATE VEJVODA (#85, Sophomore, 6'5, 245 lbs., Providence Catholic, Homer Glen, IL)

SHAUN BEYER (#42, Freshman (RS), 6'5, 222 lbs., CR Kennedy, Shellsburg, IA)

These two are mystery men. Vejvoda had numbers offers from MAC schools out of college and redshirted his freshman year. He saw extremely limited playing time last season and didn’t record any statistics. With his size, he’s presumably a blocking tight end but we haven’t seen enough of him to make that determination.

Beyer was a wide receiver recruit who picked Iowa over Iowa State and Nebraska. He redshirted last season and made the switch to tight end this spring. Despite the redshirt, he still checks in at a slight 222. He’s a one-time wide receiver so there’s no question about what type of tight end he is. But he’s obviously going to need to put on some weight before he sees the field in a realistic capacity.

THEY WERE ONLY FRESHMEN

TOMMY KUJAWA (#86, Freshman, 6'3, 220 lbs., Greendale, Greendale, WI)

JACOB COONS (#88, Freshman, 6'3, 220 lbs., Solon, Solon, IA)

Kujawa walked on so there’s no question that he’ll be redshirting this season. Coons picked Iowa over Iowa State and already has good size but with all of the youth on the depth chart, it’s difficult to see him making an impact any time soon.  We’ll see him down the road.

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