T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant made history in 2019, when they became the first set of tight ends from the same school drafted in the first round.
Nearly three seasons later, with numbers that are almost identical to this point in their careers, the former Iowa teammates are set to renew their friendly rivalry Sunday when the Denver Broncos host the Detroit Lions.
“Obviously, it was a good time playing with him at Iowa, and it’ll be nice to see him,” Hockenson said Thursday. “We played him, each other, our rookie year, but I wasn’t there for that one cause I hurt my ankle. So it’ll be good to actually play against him and be over there.”
LIONS MAILBAG: Assessing Brad Holmes’ first draft as general manager
Hockenson, the No. 8 overall pick in 2019, has 160 catches for 1,673 yards and 12 touchdowns in his three seasons with the Lions.
Fant, the No. 20 overall pick, has 151 catches for 1,659 yards and nine TDs, in two more games.
Both have mostly lived up to their pre-draft billing as reliable offensive weapons, while extending Iowa’s reputation for producing top tight ends.
All-Pro San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle finished up at Iowa in 2016 during their freshman seasons, when Hockenson redshirted and Fant played sparingly in 11 games.
Another ex-Iowa tight end, Shaun Beyer, is on the Broncos’ practice squad. And Dallas Clark, Scott Chandler and Tony Moeaki are among the Hawkeye greats at the position to play in the NFL.
Hockenson, who rehabbed at Iowa from the broken ankle he suffered as a rookie in 2019, said he still keeps close tabs on the program. He counts Kittle as one of his best friends, and Fant took part in the tight end boot camp Hockenson and Kittle hosted in Nashville this summer.
“It was one of those things where (at Iowa we learn) not just what we had to do but the whole concept and why they do different things and what different coverages they do different things in,” Hockenson said. “Obviously we had to block at Iowa, and I think that translates into the NFL is just being able to block, and then being able to run a route and understand the concepts inside of the playbook. So I think they do a really good job at developing players. And like you see, each tight end that comes out, they always end up having a pretty good career.”
Hockenson and Fant are having pretty good seasons for their respective teams.
Fant leads the Broncos (6-6) with 49 catches for 424 yards and three touchdowns. He has been one of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s favorite security blankets on an offense brimming with weapons at the receiver position.
Hockenson, coming off a Pro Bowl season, leads the Lions (1-10-1) with 61 catches, 583 yards receiving and four receiving touchdowns. He is on pace for career highs in receptions and yards, and he said he plans to play Sunday despite missing practice time this week with a hand injury.
“It was obviously a friendly competition every day walking into the building (with Noah and me,” Hockenson said. “Just being able to get drafted with him, that was a cool thing cause it had never happened before with two tight ends in the first round, and then obviously throughout our NFL careers the last three years it’s been fun.
“He lives in Denver, I live in Tennessee, so it’s kind of, we get together once a year, twice a year and just kind of hang out and reminisce. He’s a great dude, and he is a good player already in this league, but he’s just going to keep building on that.”
Assistant head coach Duce Staley said the Lions used Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Chase Claypool’s ill-timed celebration Thursday as a teaching tool for what not to do in late-game situations.
“Yeah, and we’ve been talking about that since June,” Staley said Friday. “And valuable lesson learned, of course, but you can continue to teach from that film, from that play, to our guys. Especially younger guys.”
Claypool caught a pass for a first down with about 40 seconds left and the Steelers in a hurry-up situation in their 36-28 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
Rather than hustle to his feet for a spike to kill the clock, Claypool stayed momentarily on the ground and signaled first down, which prompted Steelers lineman Trai Turner to try and take the ball from Claypool to hand to an official.
The ball bounced away from both Steelers players, and 17 seconds ran off the clock between plays. The Steelers eventually reached the Minnesota 12-yard line, but the game ended after an incomplete pass on a first down.
“We can all say, ‘Hey man, I’ll give the ball back to the ref,’ (and) get caught up in the moment like the kid did, didn’t get a chance to do that, cost him,” Staley said. “But what you do as coaches, you show it. You show it and over and over again if you have to. And you have to get them to understand how serious it is.”