2019 NFL Draft Prospects: Tight End - Noah Fant, Iowa
Even if I was discussing between Fant and UCLA’s Caleb Wilson as the best tight end in the country heading into 2018, this kid was largely the consensus top overall player at the position. As the season went along, he didn’t even look like the number one guy on his own team, but that has more to do with the excellence of Hockenson than what Fant can do. The former two-time All-Nebraska tight end decided to join the Hawkeyes and already showed glimpses of his potential as a true freshman. Over these last two years he went over 1000 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns on 14.7 yards per reception.
Fant has a premier combination of size, speed and hands. Measuring in at 6’4”, 250 pounds, he ran a 4.5 flat and a ridiculous 6.81 in the 3-cone drill at the NFL scouting combine. Fant looks a little bit like Gronk in that 87 jersey, but there is a significant difference in pure explosiveness in the favor of this highly touted draft prospect. You have to leave someone over the top of Fant or he will burn the next-closest defender who trails him down the seams. He is deadly on crossing routes underneath and over the top of linebackers.
Fant catches the ball over his shoulder like a wide receiver and is potent YAC target coming across the formation towards the flats off bootlegs or simply catching the ball on drag routes. It’s completely unfair to ask a linebacker to carry Fant down the field and he has mismatch nightmare written all over him when you look his physical dimensions and athletic traits.
The dynamic target was moved around a whole lot by Hawkeyes, lining up as a tight end or wing-man, H-back, in the slot and out wide. Almost 300 of his 519 yards last season came out of the slot and he was also used as a single-receiver in 3-by-1 sets. Fant shows effortless burst off the line and is surprisingly sharp coming in and out of breaks in the short areas for such a tall body.
On an offense that ran the ball on ten plays more than they threw it on average per game in 2017, he only caught 30 balls for just under 500 yards and 11 of those went for touchdowns. Fant doesn’t mind putting hands on people and creating movement at the point of attack or working up to a linebacker off double-teams.
There are some issues with how Fant attacks the ball in the air. He is a little too wide with his hands at times and somewhat claps at the ball. He also leaves his feet on way too many occasions where he wouldn’t have to when catching the ball and allows it to get to his body. While he made several incredible grabs down the field, he struggled more with routine catches, dropping about ten perfect of his targets last season.
Fant is not the most flexible athlete and struggles a little with off-target throws if they aren’t above his head. He is also knocked off his routes too easily and won more with raw athleticism in college. Fant loses grip of defenders as a run-blocker eventually and has a defenders slip past him. His overall technique in that area needs some work. So does his plan with the ball in his hands, as he doesn’t show any creativity as a runner if he can’t just beat defenders with speed.
While I don’t think Fant is nearly as complete a player as his teammate T.J. Hockenson, his upside as a big slot receiver and vertical threat is tremendous. I have some questions about how natural his ball-skills are and I don’t see much happening after the catch if he doesn’t have room to run, but you can work around that. I think he shows potential as a run-blocker and some team in the top 20 should fall in love with the freakish athlete.