Iowa’s T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant are two of a kind.
The Hawkeye all-American tight ends proved that again Thursday when both were selected during the opening round of the 2019 NFL draft.
The first set of tight ends from the same college program ever to be selected in the first round of the draft, Hockenson and Fant didn’t have to wait long to make history in Nashville.
Hockenson was the 2019 draft’s eighth overall choice, taken by the Detroit Lions, while the Denver Broncos made Fant the 20th pick in the first of the three-day draft’s seven rounds.
In a year when a number of teams were in the market for impact-making tight ends, both were in attendance as they became the first pair of tight ends to be chosen in the top 20 in the draft since 1992.
Former Hawkeye Bob Stoops was in attendance as well and as Hockenson made his way out of the green room for a long walk to the podium, Hockenson got a handshake and a "Go Hawks!" from the former Oklahoma coach.
He said in a Lions teleconference following his selection that he was prepared to be "student of the game" as his professional career begins.
"I’m going to do whatever helps the team," Hockenson said. "I’m excited to get into Detroit. I’m excited to get back to work. I’m excited to dive into the playbook and learn as fast as I can in order to be a trustworthy guy. You just have to be a student of the game."
Fant told The Denver Post that he got what he wanted when the Broncos called his name.
"I wanted to go to a team that fit me, a team that wanted me, a team with a scheme I fit," said Fant, who made a pre-draft visit to Denver and its facilities. "The Denver Broncos are 100 percent that team. I couldn’t ask for a better team to pick me."
In Denver, Fant joins two other former Hawkeyes, linebacker Josey Jewell and long snapper Casey Kreiter who currently play for the Broncos.
At a pre-draft event Wednesday, Hockenson told the Associated Press he felt both Hawkeyes were well prepared for the challenge at the next level.
"This is entire process has been flattering and it has been cool to learn how people see the game differently," Hockenson said. "Working with coach (Kirk) Ferentz and coach (Chris) Doyle the past three years, you’ve got two guys who have prepared me for this point. They’ve prepared me for my entire life, not just football."
Fant believed he benefited from competing with Hockenson on a daily basis.
"We made each other better, pushed each other, from the time we both arrived at Iowa," Fant said. "It was a good situation to be in and something which led us both to this point."
Both of Iowa’s first-round draft picks — the first Hawkeye duo taken in the opening round since defensive back Tom Knight and offensive lineman Ross Verba went in the first round in 1997 — stand 6-foot-5. At 250 pounds, Hockenson weighs nine pounds more than his Iowa teammate for the past three years.
Productive seasons over the past two years positioned both for early opportunities in this year’s draft.
The 2018 Mackey Award winner as college football’s top tight end, Hockenson is the 10th Iowa tight end to be selected in the NFL draft in Kirk Ferentz’s 20-year tenure and the third Hawkeye during that span to be chosen among the top-10 picks in the draft.
Like the other two, 2004 second overall pick Robert Gallery and 2015 fifth overall choice Brandon Scherff, Hockenson is from Iowa.
The Chariton, Iowa, native was the Hawkeyes’ second-leading receiver last season. He caught 49 passes for a team-leading 760 yards and six touchdowns.
Fant, now 11th on a list of drafted tight ends in the Ferentz era which began with Rock Island’s Austin Wheatley in 2000, counted a team-leading seven touchdown passes among his 39 receptions last season that covered 519 yards.
The Omaha, Nebraska, native who was named as the Big Ten’s tight end of the year, owns Iowa’s career touchdown receptions record at the position with 19.
Denver president of football operations and general manager John Elway quickly went to Twitter following the selection and painted Fant as a player whose athleticism could create mismatches for opposing defenses.
"Noah Fant is an incredibly gifted and athletic tight end," Elway wrote. "He’s got great speed and he can really stretch the field. We’re very fortunate to get him at 20."
Denver made that happen after trading back with Pittsburgh, which received the draft’s 10th pick in exchange for the 20th and 52nd choices.
Hockenson was described by NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah as "the safest pick in the draft."
He based that on the consistency he saw in Hockenson’s game as he evaluated his game tape from Iowa.
"I saw this kid with great temperament and nastiness in the run game and controlling the run game, and then on top of that, he does nothing but get open and catch everything they throw to him," Jeremiah said. "He’s going to be a very valuable player with a very high floor."
The NFL draft continues today, with second- and third-round choices scheduled to be made beginning at 6 p.m. The final four rounds are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. on Saturday.