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Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley throws passes to T.J. Hockenson in drills leading up to Outback Bowl. Watch: Mark Emmert, memmert@gannett.com

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It's been a good year for T.J. Hockenson. 

He's gone from a nice redshirt freshman season to being named college football's best tight end and is months away from a large NFL contract. It's been quite the transformation. 

So how bright is his NFL future?

ESPN's chief NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. had the 6-foot-5 pass-catcher, who declared for the draft on Monday, among his top-20 selections in latest mock draft that came out Thursday. 

Kiper pegged Hockenson going No. 19 overall in April's NFL Draft to the Tennessee Titans. No other Iowa or Iowa State player was listed in Kiper's mock, which can be read here (subscription).

Here's what Kiper had to say about the Hawkeye: 

Hockenson can be a weapon. He is an all-around tight end, an excellent blocker and a good pass-catcher with a 6-foot-5, 250-pound frame.

Obviously, it's a bit early in the evaluation process with the NFL Scouting Combine not starting until late next month in Indianapolis. But expect the Hockenson buzz to continue to build as others dig into his redshirt sophomore season tape that echoes Kiper's appraisal. 

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