In the AFC Championship Game one week ago, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski looked like his old dominant self as a pass catcher again. The 29-year old was quick into his routes, physical at attacking the football when in the air, and targeted more often than any other member of the team’s offense. All in all, he finished the game against the Kansas City Chiefs with six catches on eleven targets for a combined 79 yards.
But despite seemingly trending in the right direction, Gronkowski’s future remains in doubt and there appears to be a chance that he calls it a career after this season. If that is indeed the case, the Patriots would need another player in his mold: a pass catching tight end that could also be used as a blocker, something Gronkowski excels in. Enter Iowa’s Noah Fant, a potential first-round pick this year.
According to the latest mock draft by SB Nation’s Dan Kadar, he will be just that — because of the Patriots:
Noah Fant, TE, Iowa
Meet your Rob Gronkowski successor. Fant excels when he’s lined up outside working up the sideline. But he’s also capable of playing the middle of the field gaining tough yards. He’s not the best blocker, but he would give the Patriots a big target as a receiver.
As Kadar notes, Fant needs to work on his blocking and ability to move people at the point of attack. Other than that, however, he is a high-upside option at tight end and arguably the best prospect at his position. Fant’s abilities as a pass catcher are the main reason for that — as he displayed consistently during his 2018 junior year: appearing in all 12 of his team’s games, he caught 39 passes for 518 yards and seven touchdowns.
“Fant is a nightmare in space and will excel in a vertical passing offense that can implement him in the middle of the field,” writes Draft Network senior analyst Kyle Crabbs about the first-team All-Big Ten selection. “With soft hands and elite athletic ability, Fant should be a volume target at the NFL level and will have an impact fairly early into his pro career.”
A versatile route runner and explosive player with the football in his hands, Fant would be a nice addition to a New England offense that lacks big play ability in 2018. And even if Gronkowski returns next year, investing in a player like Fant — a flex tight end that will add more pure talent to the Patriots’ receiving corps — would be a sound decision as a long-term investment with potential short-term payoff as well.