Name: Noah Fant
Position: Tight End
Fant and his cohort T.J. Hockenson defined Iowa’s offense for two seasons with their high-powered vertical receiving abilities. An uber-athlete with an enormous ceiling, Fant brings an element to the tight end position that simply does not come around every year.
Long and lean, Fant has an excellent frame with which to work. He has a good height with long arms and a thick upper body, and he knows how to use his length to its full extent. Some have expressed concern about his lower body mass, but Fant has no issues with explosion and holds up well in all facets.
Fant is the elite of the elite in this year’s class at tight end. He has prototypical tight end size, yet moves like a receiver. His explosion off the ball is excellent and he finds his top gear quickly. Whether from a three-point stance or out in the slot, Fant can create separation quickly thanks to his tremendous speed and explosive change-of-direction skills. His long strides help give him breakaway speed that can distance himself from defensive backs. After the catch, he is shifty and balanced, more than capable of making defenders miss in the open field. Fant’s leaping ability makes him a lethal red zone target with excellent body control to attack and catch the ball in the air. His catch radius is undoubtedly tops in the class.
To put numbers to it, Fant posted among tight ends at the combine the best 40 time (4.5 seconds), vertical (39.5 inches), broad jump (127 inches), three-cone (6.81 seconds) and 60-yard shuttle (11.49 seconds).
Hands and Ball Skills
While not quite as natural as his teammate Hockenson, Fant’s hands are at least an adequate complement to his elite athleticism. He catches away from his body and can adjust to off-target throws without losing momentum. Fant knows how to use his full catch radius, both high and low, and generally makes plays against contact. Perhaps his greatest asset, however, is his ability to attack high balls. Hockenson may have been the more-used three-down tight end, but Fant was a touchdown-machine in the red zone. His last two seasons at Iowa, he scored 18 touchdowns, which was 26 percent of his total catches over that time. His catch radius and skills at the high point will give him a niche right away.
Smooth and effortless would be the best way to describe Fant’s routes. He can run the full route tree, but excels the most when he can open it up downfield. That said, he is excellent at setting up his downfield routes before breaking them off. He gets separation consistently thanks to quality route leverage and his ability to gear down and explode out efficiently.
Against zone coverage, he can find soft spots well and take what he is given. But he is at his best when he can simply explode out and take advantage of the mismatch he provides.
Noah Fant. Mismatch nightmare. pic.twitter.com/5m9XhmhhO4— Jordan Reid (@JReidNFL) December 8, 2018
It will be interesting to see how Fant transitions to having his hand in the ground more often. He ran plenty of routes out of a three-point stance, but they were generally play action and misdirection plays. The majority of his straightforward routes came when split out. He is pretty good at fighting through contact on his route, but against bigger, more physical linebackers and safeties, he could get knocked off his path. But in today’s NFL with more tight ends working from a stand-up position, Fant’s style should transition fairly easily.
This is the big area where Fant could improve. Hockenson was the three-down guy while Fant was mostly just a receiving threat due to the gap between their blocking abilities. It is not necessarily for lack of effort. Fant will explode out towards his target with good punch. He simply does not have high blocking strength, so most of his success comes in the screen game or at the second level where his athleticism can play a role. His length and upper-body strength would lend hope that he can develop into a consistent blocker, but for now, he is clearly more of a receiving threat than a complete tight end.
Kyle Rudolph’s future with the Vikings is a bit murky, so they should start looking for their next generation at tight end. Tyler Conklin is a project with limitations, though he took some steps in year one. David Morgan will probably never be much more than a blocking specialist. That dangerous red zone guy who can also threaten between the 20s is one of the most desirable assets in football right now. Fant can provide that right away.
Of course, getting Fant will require a first round pick, and chances are decent he will not even be on the board at 18. Plus, the Vikings’ greatest need continues to be offensive line, at least for 2019. That said, Fant is a guy who can make an impact day one with his elite athletic and receiving ability. Offensive linemen with similar immediate starting potential are available in rounds two and three most years, so the urgency at the position is not quite as high. Simply put, Fant is a best player available candidate at 18, and plays a position of need for the Vikings.
–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.
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