Nobody, and I mean nobody, knows what’s going to transpire at the 2019 NFL Draft in Nashville.
Kyler Murray might go No. 1. He might not.
Montez Sweat and Rashan Gary might slide. They might not.
But using information from the draftniks who’ve turned prospect evaluation into a 24/7/365 commodity, one can see a historic Thursday night for the Iowa football program in the Music City.
Tenacious TJ Hockenson (you guys like that nickname?) is a lock to be selected in the first round. He’d be the eighth player to earn that distinction in Kirk Ferentz’s 20-year tenure at Iowa and the first since Brandon Scherff in 2015.
Hockenson’s tight end comrade, Noah Fant, isn’t far behind. Fant is likely going to be a late-first or early-second round selection, depending on how everything shakes out with quarterbacks and trades, and maybe social media posts and gas mask bongs, too. Who knows.
If Fant is taken in the first 32 picks, the Hawkeyes will have the distinction of being the first college football program to have two tight ends selected in the opening round of the draft.
It’d also be the first time the Hawks have two first-round picks since 1997.
The duo will still make history if the Omaha product is left on the board until the second day. No program has had two tight ends selected in the first three rounds of the same draft either.
Tight End U, indeed. Let’s get to my draft projections…
TJ Hockenson – No. 12 to Green Bay
Only one tight end has been selected inside the top-18 since Vernon Davis in 2006. I think Hockenson becomes the second, although I do still have reservations about projecting a tight end this high.
Hockenson has been consistently rated as a top-10 overall prospect in this draft class, however, even without having world-class athleticism. That tells you everything you need to know about his tape from Iowa and his overall fundamentals.
I have him going to the Packers at 12, because new coach Matt LaFleur loves tight ends. He’s also seen what another Iowa tight end, George Kittle, has done for Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco. LaFleur worked on Shanahan’s offensive staff in both Washington and Atlanta.
Noah Fant – No. 27 to Oakland
Fant was presumed to be the top tight end in the draft until late last season when Hockenson stole some of his thunder. That being said, his combination of size and athleticism doesn’t come around very often for an offensive skill player.
The biggest knocks against him are inconsistency when blocking and a lack of fluidity catching the football. Those are minor, but it’s minor details that keeps guys out of the first round.
I believe Fant’s either going to be selected by the Raiders at 27, which just lost tight end Jared Cook in free agency, or a team like Denver or Jacksonville that trades back into the first round. There’s the possibility Oakland gambles that Fant is still on the board at pick 35 too.
Amani Hooker – No. 90 to Dallas
Hooker will make it three years in-a-row that an Iowa defensive back gets drafted. Desmond King and Josh Jackson both dropped compared to experts’ pre-draft predictions. Will Hooker suffer the same fate?
Only slightly. I think the Cowboys take him late in the third round.
Hooker is a very versatile player like King. He’s maybe not as polished in coverage, but more physical in the run game. He can play a high safety position in a base defense that’s predicated on zone coverage or come down in the box as a slot corner or run defender. The Cowboys will like that position flexibility, as well as Hooker’s football IQ which was raved about at this year’s NFL Combine.
Anthony Nelson – No. 123 to Baltimore
Nelson might be closer to an early-third round pick in a “normal” year, but I believe the two-time All-Big Ten player will have to wait until Saturday to be picked.
This draft is absolutely stacked at defensive tackle and defensive end/edge players, which works against Nelson’s value. That’s why it was a little surprising Nelson gave up his final year of eligibility at Iowa to go to the NFL. But I’m sure being paid to play beats playing for a scholarship, especially when you’ve already completed your undergraduate degree.
I think the Ravens, which lost edge players Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs this offseason, pull the trigger on Nelson in the fourth round.