Here’s a dose of truth- There’s a pair of 21-year old Tight Ends from the University of Iowa that could make a massive impact on the NFL this year. Here’s another dose- The Packers are in an excellent position to get them both. T.J. Hockenson (6’4, 250 lbs, 4.70 40-yard dash) and Noah Fant (6’2, 250 lbs, 4.50 40-yard dash) are arguably the best TE duo to come out of one school in the same year.
The Packers glaring weakness on offense?… Tight End.
Sure, Jimmy Graham is on the roster and he has the potential to put up some numbers like the New Orleans/Seattle days. But we didn’t hire a young, offensive-minded coach to maybe get some production out of a Tight End who’s been far from gentle to his body over the last 10 years in the league. I’m going to focus on the Tight Ends not yet on the roster because I truly do believe that if we draft just one of them, the other will be putting up Gronk numbers on another team for the next 10 years. I don’t think I can live with another Packers draft where we pass up guaranteed play-makers like T.J. Watt, Alvin Kamara, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and even Eric Kendricks in 2015.
But… before I talk about the Tight Ends of the future, a quick couple of thoughts on the previous regime and our draft strategy.
Look, I defended Ted Thompson more than anyone in my cheese wheel (my circle of friends that are Packer fans) because I truly do believe in the draft-and-develop mentality that has worked incredibly well for several historically great programs.
I stood up for Mike McCarthy for a while, too. But the day came where I realized, no matter how good of a job McCarthy and Thompson do, other teams are going to do it better, and shortly thereafter, change did come.
Do I believe in Brian Gutekunst?… Let’s just say I probably won’t trust a GM until Rodgers’ hands start to shine like Brady’s. However, I am a big fan of his aggressive approach; which is why I think my idea of taking both Hockenson and Fant is not that unbelievable. Gutekunst knows that Aaron Rodgers’ best years featured a play-making Tight End. Gutekunst also knows that his hand-picked guy, Matt LaFleur, is going to do everything in his power to get #12 comfortable. That starts with a Tight End that can make plays in the passing game AND the run game.
Let’s take a look at these Iowa boys, shall we?
T.J. Hockenson isn’t just a pass-catching, play-making Tight End, he’s a force to be reckoned with as a run-blocker and if the Packers’ offense is going to be anywhere near elite, our run game has got to be something feared by opposing defenses. The potential is in the backfield with the workhorse Jamaal Williams and the electric factory Aaron Jones, but the missing piece was a dual-threat Tight End.
Mercedes Lewis is arguably one of the best run-blocking Tight Ends in NFL history, but his play-making days are behind him and he no longer poses a threat in the passing game (please prove me wrong Mercedes, I’ll buy 10 of your jerseys), thus a single-threat Tight End. Jimmy Graham is a 5-time Pro Bowler, he had an All-Pro season, if he isn’t banged up he is one of the best Red Zone targets in the league, but he no longer poses the threat he once did. He’s been asked to be a run-blocker so few of times that I’ve never considered him a true, dual-threat Tight End, thus a single-threat.
T.J. Hockenson on the other hand, has drawn praise for his pass-catching and run-blocking from every Draft guru on TV, Radio and the internet. He’s not just a good idea to take with our first pick, he’s a guaranteed play-maker much like the guys I mentioned earlier.
Noah Fant is the modern Tight End we’ve seen developing before our eyes. An explosive route-runner with great hands and play-making ability with the wheels to blow by the best Linebackers and Safety’s, and just plain out-muscle the best Cornerbacks in the league. At Iowa, Hockenson was often-used as a 6th linemen; which allowed Fant to line up in the slot that produced some stellar mismatches for the Hawkeye offense. A Tight End with the speed and athleticism of Fant’s, coupled with the veteran Jimmy Graham, would be a combo that any offensive coordinator would be envious of. Packer fans, ask yourselves this: When is the last time we had a Tight End that could line up in the slot, blow by DB’s, and could actually catch the ball? (Sorry Jermichael Finley) The answer is never, and we have an incredible opportunity to change that this year.
“Okay Tanner, you’ve pretty much rattled off everything the experts have said about these guys… What’s your point?”
Well, thank you for asking… My point is, I need you to close your eyes and picture this scene for me: It’s the 4th quarter of our week 1 game against the Bears. We get the ball back around the 2-minute warning and Rodgers walks out to a huddle that has Jimmy Graham, Aaron Jones, Davante Adams, T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant. They line up in that Pistol formation that absolutely torched the Bears’ defense in Week 1 of 2018 when Rodgers came back at half-time and pissed right in the Bears’ Cheerios. First down completion to Graham over the middle for 12 yards followed by a 10-yard out to Hockenson. A beautiful post for 35 yards to Adams puts them well inside field goal range. Clock goes under a minute, Rodgers with a delayed hand-off to Aaron Jones results in a 15-yard gain getting us inside the red zone. Rodgers lets the clock run down so we have one final shot at the end zone. Rodgers gets the snap, drops back, tosses one of those back-shoulder fades that only he can throw and Fant snags the ball over Kyle Fuller as the clock hits 0:00. Packers win 42-14 because our offense is unstoppable thanks in large part to our Rookie Tight Ends.
If that vision doesn’t make you think this plan could work, then go ahead and buy me Hockenson’s and Fant’s Pro Bowl jerseys, because they’re the next play-makers the Packers will pass up.
I wear an XXL (athletic cut).
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