Iowa football: Tight end Noah Fant declares for the NFL Draft, will skip bowl game

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

Noah Fant, Iowa's all-time leader in touchdowns by a tight end, has played his last game as a Hawkeye.

The junior is declaring for the NFL Draft and will skip Iowa's bowl game. He tweeted his plans Friday morning.

Noah Fant caught two touchdown passes earlier this season against Wisconsin.

Fant on Wednesday was named first-team all-Big Ten Conference by the league's coaches after leading the Hawkeyes with seven touchdown catches. ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. lists Fant as his No. 1 tight end for the 2019 draft.

Fant finishes his Iowa career with 78 receptions for 1,083 yards and 19 touchdowns and will go down as one of the great tight ends in Hawkeye history — even if he wasn't considered the best on his team this season.

Fant's junior year was filled with drama off the field about how he was used on it. On the day he sustained a concussion at Minnesota, his brother tweeted displeasure about how Iowa coaches were using him. After returning, Fant's use was curious in losses to Penn State and Northwestern — defining, close setbacks in a three-game losing streak that foiled Iowa's chances at a Big Ten West title.

The snap-count flames were fanned by head coach Kirk Ferentz's description of him as a "specialist," compared to every-down tight end T.J. Hockenson — who is one of three Mackey Award finalists as the nation's top tight end.

But Fant always took a measured, mature approach in interviews, saying he was a team player and trusted the coaches. The 6-foot-5, 241-pounder with freakish athletic ability (including a 42.1-inch vertical jump and Iowa's record in the three-cone drill) was gracious in his departure, thanking Ferentz and strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle.

"Thank you Coach Ferentz and Coach Doyle for the opportunity and honor to represent the black and gold, for helping me grow physically and mentally, more than I thought possible," Fant wrote in his tweet, while later thanking his two position coaches (LeVar Woods and Brian Ferentz) during his three years in Iowa City.

But the Omaha native is clearly ready to move on, and he will no doubt be an NFL Scouting Combine star. Fant's upside is going to be one of his greatest assets. He turned 21 on Nov. 20.

"Since the very first time I put on a pair of football pads as a child, it has been my dream to play in the NFL," Fant wrote. "I am very excited for what the future holds and extremely humbled by the amazing opportunity in front of me. I will always bleed the black and gold and forever be a Hawkeye."

About two hours after Fant making his decision public, Kirk Ferentz released a statement that acknowledged that Fant is believed to be the first Hawkeye to skip a bowl game to pursue a pro career.

"We are disappointed Noah will not be finishing the season with his teammates," Ferentz said. “He is a tremendous athlete and we wish him the best as he pursues his goal of playing in the NFL."

Now Iowa fans' attention turns to Hockenson. A redshirt sophomore, the Chariton native also has an NFL decision in front of him after a sensational season in which he caught 46 passes for 717 yards and six touchdowns. Kiper recently listed Hockenson (6-5, 250) as his No. 5 draft-eligible tight end.

Ferentz and selected Iowa players will address the media late Sunday afternoon after learning their bowl destination.