NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Iowa is known for corn, state fairs, and now, history-making tight ends.
T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant became the first set of tight-end teammates to be drafted in the same first round Thursday night, with Hockenson going No. 8 to the Lions and Fant No. 20 to the Broncos.
Less than three years after they stepped onto campus together at the University of Iowa, they continued their journey by being the first two tight ends off the board.
“It’s a big prideful thing,” Fant said. “Obviously it’s never happened before. Two guys from the same team, same position, going in the first round is very special. It’s pretty cool.”
Two tight ends being taken in the first round itself is out of the ordinary, never mind them coming from the same school. In the previous 20 NFL drafts before Thursday, zero or one tight end was selected in the first round 15 times.
Since 2000, 13 sets of tight-end teammates have been picked in the same draft, but none were both first-rounders. None have really come close, either. The highest previous combined selections were Stanford’s Zach Ertz (35th overall) and Levine Toilolo (133rd overall) in 2013.
“Both of us are up for verdict — we haven’t played a down in the NFL yet,” said the explosive Fant, who finished with 78 receptions for 1,083 yards and 19 touchdowns. “We’ll see how it goes. It’s always going to be a competition. Obviously I’m going to say I’m going to do better. That’s always the competition there.”
Hockenson could provide shades of Rob Gronkowski for Matt Patricia, the Lions head coach and former Patriots assistant. The 6-foot-5, 251-pound Hockenson recorded 73 receptions for 1,080 yards and nine touchdowns at Iowa, developing a reputation as a powerful run blocker as well.
“I was happy for him,” Fant said. “Going into the draft, I knew teams were going to want different types of tight ends. There’s different types of tight ends in our draft. It depends on what the team wanted. Detroit got a great tight end that fits their system. The Broncos went with me, which I’m very happy about.”