In the 2019 NFL Draft, there were two Tight Ends selected in Round 1. T.J. Hockenson went to the Detroit Lions at #8, while Noah Fant was chosen by the Denver Broncos 21st overall. For fantasy football purposes, we must ask ourselves, who we should choose in the Fant vs Hockenson debate.
For this piece, I will compare both player’s college production as well as their athletic metrics. Furthermore, I will examine how each player fits in with his new NFL team in order to determine who will be more productive in 2019 and beyond.
This comparison will be quite interesting as both Fant and Hockenson played for the Iowa Hawkeyes.
First, we have Noah Fant’s college stats.
Next, we find a table of T.J. Hockenson’s production.
It is interesting to see how close these teammates were in terms of production. In their respective careers, Fant and Hockenson were separated by 3 receiving yards. Their yards per catch average were also close with Hockenson getting the edge at 14.8 to 13.9. The only stat where there was a significant separation was in the touchdown department. Fant found the end zone 19 times in 30 college games (0.63 TD/game) while Hockenson scored 10 times in 24 contests (0.42 TD/game).
Speaking strictly of raw stats, it is difficult to distinguish Fant from Hockenson.
When it comes to athletic testing, we begin to see some seperation between these players. Fant destroyed the combine, finishing in the 96th percentile (or better) in most of the important categories. Fant ran the 40-yard dash in 4.50 seconds, which was faster than Hockenson’s 4.70. That is a big difference considering that they are essentially the same weight (Fant 249 lbs. Hockenson 251 lbs.).
Player Profile’s Burst Score is calculated by equalling all players’ weight and them combining the broad and vertical jump results. Fant scored a 132.6 while Hockenson has a 127.1 Burst Score.
There is also the agility score which combines a player’s 20 Yard Short Shuttle time with their 3-Cone Drill time. Fant’s combined score was 11.03 seconds and was better than Hockenson’s 11.2 seconds.
Finally, there is the SPARQx score, which stands for Speed, Power, Agility, Reaction and Quickness. It is one of the best metrics to showcase the overall athletic ability of a player. Fant’ SPARQx score is 128.8 (98th percentile at the tight end position) which is higher than Hockenson’s 115.2 (75th percentile).
Looking strictly at these tight ends in terms of athletic testing, Fant is clearly the winner of this head-to-head.
Both Fant and Hockenson join somewhat crowded tight end rooms in Denver and Detroit respectively.
For his part, Fant carries by far the most draft capital among the Broncos tight ends. Jeff Heuerman, a 3rd round pick in 2015, is closest to Fant’s 1st round selection. However, Heuerman just achieved career bests in receptions (31) receiving yards (281) and touchdowns (2) in 2018, numbers that Fant could eclipse as a rookie.
Hockenson meanwhile, isn’t competing for playing time against players drafted by the organization. Instead, the Lions signed free agent Jesse James to a 4-year $25 million contract this offseason. From his career in Pittsburgh, we can see that James is more of a threat to Hockenson than anyone on the Broncos roster is to Fant. Last season, even with 9 fewer targets, James surpassed Heuerman’s receiving yards 423 to 281.
The one edge that Hockenson has over Fant is his blocking ability in the run game. With a defensive-minded head coach like Matt Patricia, the Lions will likely look to utilize Hockenson in that manner. That will put him on the field far more often than Fant who is not a particularly great blocker.
Another similarity between Fant and Hockenson is the presence of veteran quarterbacks throwing to them.
Early in his career, Joe Flacco wasn’t targeting tight ends all that much. In his first 3 NFL season, the tight end market share never even reached 19% of the targets. However, from 2011 on, in the seasons when Flacco played all 16 games, the tight ends saw between 21 and 27 % of the targets. Those Ravens teams had some talented tight ends (notably Dennis Pitta) but not one with the raw athletic ability of Fant. There is reason to believe that Flacco will look to Fant more than any other player on the Broncos.
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On the flip side, Matthew Stafford often targeted tight ends early in his career. That culminated with a 28% market share for the position in 2012, a season where Stafford threw 727 pass attempts. However, the number dropped to 17% of targets for tight ends the very next season. Other than in 2017, where tight ends had 21% of the targets, Stafford has thrown to that position less than 18% o the time. The lack of talented tight ends was not the issue as Eric Ebron was there between 2014 and 2017 and it took him leaving Detroit to ever see more than 86 targets in a season.
Based on each quarterback’s recent history, I would prefer the tight end in a Flacco offense as compared to a Stafford offense. However, Stafford is locked into his role more so than Flacco is. Stafford has 4 years left on his contract and it is not until 2022 that the dead cap hit disappears. Flacco however, could theoretically be replaced this season as he carries no dead cap hit on any of the 3 years left on his deal. Furthermore, the Broncos just drafted their potential QB of the future in Drew Lock. In this regard, Hockenson has the advantage because he will be able to develop chemistry with Stafford over the next couple of season. That is not guaranteed of Fant and Flacco.
When comparing both of these tight ends, they are very close. Their college production was essentially equal. Also, while Fant has better athletics metrics, Hockenson had a pretty decent testing numbers as well. Finally, with regards to their new teams, both rookie tight ends should be at the top of their respective depth charts but Fant could easily lead the Broncos in targets this season. Hockenson, however, will most certainly be behind Kenny Golladay and even Marvin Jones. They both have good quarterbacks but Hockenson will likely get to play with Stafford longer than Fant will be with Flacco. Drew Lock is an x-factor because we do not know how the presumed QB of the future will target the tight end position in the NFL.
In fantasy football rookie drafts, both Fant and Hockenson are going around the 1st-2nd round turn. It will likely take both players some time before producing at a high level because rookie tight ends rarely dominate right away. Because of Hockenson’s capacities as a pass-blocker, and Fant’s opportunity to be the main tight end in Denver, they are both worthy of 1st-round rookie picks.
As for who to select, personally, I choose Fant. That is because you can’t teach his advanced athleticism. While Fant’s blocking pails in comparison to Hockenson’s, we don’t get fantasy points for opening run-blocking. Even with a higher snap count, I don’t envision Hockenson outproducing Fant. I already drafted Fant over Hockenson in one recent rookie draft, so I’m putting my money where my mouth is.
Thank you for reading. Stay connected to Full Press Coverage for a follow up to this article. Which tight ends will be compared next?