Tight end is a difficult position to scout for NFL franchises. Some players are great at one aspect of the game in college, but that collegiate production simply does not pan out in the NFL. Chase Coffman is a prime example of this trend; great receiving tight end in college, barely saw the field in the NFL because of a lack of ability as a blocker. Meanwhile, Antonio Gates played college basketball and became one of the best tight ends of his era. Although this position is difficult to scout, some players stand out as potential NFL starters in every draft class. Noah Fant (TE Iowa) is one of these players.
Fant has been a productive pass catcher in college; in his 2017 season, he recorded 30 receptions. However, 11 of these receptions were touchdown catches. That's an average of better than 1 touchdown for every three catches. Of course, these numbers will not hold up when extrapolated over a larger data set, but Fant showcases the tools to be a reliable red zone threat at the NFL level. At 6-5, 232 pounds, has the size to make it at the position in the NFL. He also tests well, with a 3.95 second shuttle drill and a 41 inch vertical jumps in spring testing in 2018. Ran a respectable 4.64 40 in 2016, and has notable speed for the position on film. This is important to scouts since his Combine performance will likely have an impact on where he is ultimately drafted; has the athletic ability to wow teams at the Combine, at which point his draft stock will rise. With a strong 2018 season and pre-draft performance, Fant has the potential to propel himself into the first half of the first round of the 2019 draft. He is an underclassman, so he has the option to stay one more year, but will likely enter the draft in 2019 unless this coming season is disastrous.
There are aspects of Fant's game that translate extremely well to the NFL. Has the hands necessary to make spectacular catches, and has the vertical mobility and strength to make plays on contested balls on a regular basis. This will help him develop into a red zone threat in an NFL offense. He is capable of playing both in posts and across the seams in a defense, which means that he has the potential to become a security blanket to an NFL quarterback if he continues to develop. Has a strong catch radius, which further adds to his ability to carve out a key role in an NFL passing game. He will occasionally drop catchable passes, which is a problem, but this is something that can be developed through practice and coaching. If he can overcome his occasional drop issues, then he has the tools to be a productive part of an NFL offense.
There are some key questions about his role in the NFL. He compares extremely well to Devin Funchess; they are extremely similar in size (the same height, and Funchess is 4 pounds heavier). Fant also has the potential to be a hybrid-type of player rather than a pure NFL tight end. Fant is not a mauler as a blocker, and occasionally finds himself in bad positions on blocks. He does, however, perform well enough in run blocking settings to not be a complete liability in run packages. On film, there are plays where he will flat out win a block, and there are occasional plays where he will get beat. Does not consistently square up against blockers, often blocking them from the side instead. Although this is effective as a way to take a player out of a given play, there is the potential for him to be vulnerable to holding calls given this tendency. Tight end is a hybrid position where the best players are strong both as receivers and as blockers, and if Fant is going to emerge as a top-tier NFL talent, he needs to improve this aspect of his game.
If nothing else, Fant showcases the tools needed to be a key cog in an NFL passing scheme. Has respectable speed for his size and is capable of making tacklers miss. This makes him a yards after the catch threat. Will take more than he is given on a play in many instances. Limited sample size in college; played relatively little in 2016 and had only 30 catches in 2017. That being said, may be a better NFL prospect than any tight end prospect in the 2018 draft. Led the Big Ten in touchdown catches after only 30 receptions, and flashes the intangibles to be a good player at the next level. His biggest weakness as a prospect is his inconsistency. If he can stop dropping catchable passes and improve as a blocker, then Fant may be an extremely high pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Ultimately, Fant is a phenomenal athlete who is a bigger threat on deep passes than most tight end prospects. He is a capable but not elite blocker at the position, but has the potential to develop more over the next season. He will be the number one receiving option in the Iowa offense this season, so scouts will have an opportunity to see how Noah Fant reacts when he is heavily game-planned against. The 2018 season will also give scouts a larger sample size to work with while analyzing him as a player. I need to see how he plays this season before finalizing my position on him as an NFL prospect, but if he can show improvement as a player and continue to produce at a high level with an increase in snaps, then Noah Fant showcases potential as a first round pick in 2019. At worst, is likely a day two pick unless he has a disastrous finish to his collegiate career.
From a front office perspective, I would be uncomfortable drafting him in the first half of the first round given the available sample size so far. However, if Fant has an outstanding 2018 season, then I would feel comfortable spending an early pick on him. The potential for this type of production is there, and Fant will have the benefit of a summer of coaching before becoming the main option in the Iowa passing offense in 2018. He's not a first round talent yet, but definitely shows the potential to be one. I'm excited to watch him play this season.--Mike B., Matt and Mike Sports. Mattandmikesportsmike@gmail.com
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