For a college to produce one stud tight end prospect, it may seem to be fortunate. For it to produce two, well that seems like excellence. But that is precisely what Iowa seem to have managed in 2018. Not content with sending Noah Fant to the NFL draft after his productive career with the Hawkeyes, they are also giving us T.J. Hockenson. Iowa, with this TE crop you are really spoiling us.
Hockenson, an Iowa native, attended Chariton High School, setting school records for receiving yards in a game, in a season and a career prior to his arrival on Kirk Ferentz squad following the 2015 season. After a redshirt 2016 campaign, Hockenson has improved in each of the last two years. This culminated in his winning the coveted John Mackey Award in 2018. He is the second Iowa TE to win this award, after Dallas Clark in 2002. But he is the first ever to win it as a sophomore.
The College Years
Hockenson was behind Fant in terms of production in 2017, finishing with 24 receptions for 320 yards and three touchdowns. Fant had only six more grabs but amassed 174 more yards and eight more touchdowns on his way to a 30-494-11 season. In 2018, Hockenson blew past Fant in terms of production. Hockenson posted a 49-760-6 line, compared to Fant’s 39-518-7. Hockenson was third on the team in receptions, but his yards led the team. He was the first TE to do this for the Hawkeyes since Alan Cross in 1992
Hockenson managed at least three receptions in 11 of his 13 games in 2018, with and four or more in six. He eclipsed 40 receiving yards nine times, with two 100-yard games. These came against Wisconsin (3-125) and Indiana (4-107-2). The Indiana game was one of two with multiple touchdowns, as Hockenson also scored twice at Illinois in mid-November. Hockenson had 52 receptions for 845 yards (16.3 yards per reception) against Big Ten opponents. He scored eight of his nine career touchdowns against them.
The Mackey Award was not the only accolade that came the way of Hockenson following the 2018 season. He was named first-team All-Big Ten by the media, and second team by the coaches. The coaches gave Fant the first team nod. Hockenson also captured the Kwalick-Clark Award, for the Big Ten’s TE of the year.
If you were creating a TE in a lab, you’d probably be hoping to produce something that looked like Hockenson. He stands 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 250 pounds. Despite ostensibly being behind Fant at the start of the season, evaluators have fallen for Hockenson like a blind roofer. His counting stats are impressive, but Hockenson has also shown his worth as a blocker. Matt Waldman writes that Hockenson
blocks like an Iowa TE the way that Nick Chubb runs like a Georgia Bulldog.
Kyle Crabbs was of the same opinion back in October. He called Hockenson “an absolute beast in the run game”. Kyle also believes that Hockenson could get better, given that he “still has room to grow into his frame.” As a receiver, Kyle notes that Hockenson
has a smart sense of bumping out of his stance and leaking past efforts to jam him at the line of scrimmage. [He] will rip through contact before accelerating up the field and into the secondary…. Strong hands, plays a powerful brand after the catch and at the catch point.
That description sounds like it could lead to a player having success as a pass catching TE in the NFL. That will probably be because it sounds like George Kittle, who also went to Iowa.
There is already speculation that Hockenson could be one of the first, if not the first TE taken in the NFL Draft this April. Jon Ledyard has him ranked as his No.21 overall prospect. He comes in at 14 on Ben Solak’s Big Board (Fant is back at 20). It would be a huge disappointment were he to not meet the minimum thresholds in the combine drills that matter to TEs.
The tape on Hockenson is impressive, and I for one would be stunned if he flopped in the workouts. NFL teams may well fall even further in love with him during interviews. Especially if there are any (and there shouldn’t be) question marks surrounding his love of the game. Hockenson himself said when speaking of his decision to leave Iowa
I have two more years of eligibility but at the same time, money’s not an issue. It’s not something I’m chasing. It’s just more the talent level (of the NFL) and trying to push yourself to the limits. I think that’s what any competitor would tell you to do, is see what you can do as a player.
In a world where dynamic, athletic TEs are fast becoming the norm, Hockenson should fit right in on whatever NFL roster he lands on this spring.