When it comes to the race for the best tight end in the 2019 NFL Draft, the consensus top two names are Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson. The collegiate teammates at the University of Iowa offer a bit of different skill-sets, but both have refined and well-rounded games.
Hockenson is the better blocker of the two, but don’t sleep on his body control as a receiver. Fant is the natural receiver, but he’s no slouch in his run blocking. In fact, his ability as a blocker is the aspect of his game that I’ve seen the largest improvement from the 2017 season until now.
Fant’s potential as a receiving tight end and threat up the seam almost works against his evaluation as both a pass and run blocker. It’s easy to see his athleticism catching the ball, and you’ll natural expect the rest of his game to meet the expectations set by that. While Fant was never a poor blocker, as his effort was always admirable, its an area where he’s become more assertive.
In Noah Fant’s sophomore season, he was a relatively easy blocker to disengage from. While his technique was sound, he lacked the grip strength in his upper body to latch on the the defenders pads. Whenever the defensive lineman or linebacker swiped his hands away, Fant was left grasping at air. Due to this, he was more of just an effort and positioning blocker who lacked true effectiveness at the point of attack. Here are multiple examples of defenders effortlessly disengaging from Fant’s blocks, all from the Ohio State game in 2017:
There were rare instances where Fant would begin to drive defenders, moving them off their spot and opening wider running lanes. These were a bit too few and far between, but he started to do this with more consistency in his junior season.
In 2018, almost right away it became evident that Fant had increased his aggressiveness as a run blocker. Fant began to convert his explosiveness into more power, and that added to more physicality on double teams and combo blocks. On top of that, Fant became more dominant with getting his hands inside and under the pads of the defenders, locking in on blocks and letting his athleticism and effort take over reps.
This resulted in more success as a point of attack blocker, especially on down blocks or when trusted to seal the edge. He matured into a natural backside blocker on zone runs, cutting off the backside or helping tackles drive defensive ends off the line of scrimmage. Here are multiple examples of Fant’s improvements in those areas:
Those pancake block reps that used to be few and far between started to happen with a bit more regularity, suggesting that he’s ascending in this area. Fant easily has the frame, agility and explosiveness to be a devastating blocker in space, and his improvements in that area should show up upon entering the NFL.
While Fant is a natural receiver, he was still tasked with pass protection reps in 2017. At the time, this basically involved Fant backpedaling and attempting to chip or widen the edge track. This limited his pad level and made generating any power ineffective when he tried to shift from pass set to punch. Here's an example, with Fant aligned as the tight end to the left side of the offense:
While Iowa still used Fant as more of a receiver (as they should have), he was still tasked with some pass protection reps. In 2018, they trusted him to block in isolation on bootleg or roll-outs. His technique was more sound, as he kept his base and worked to wall off defenders:
While Fant’s calling card is his receiving talent, offenses are still going to ask him to block in the NFL. It’s an important aspect for a tight end, as many power runs rely on their blocking ability. Fant showed a lot of progression from one year to the next, and that development should continue in the NFL. If it does, we’ll be talking about an all-around stud player in the league, easily with all-pro level potential.