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Matchup nightmare? How Iowa tight ends would fit with Titans

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans are looking for ways to score more points on offense with former tight ends coach Arthur Smith taking over playcalling duties.

Two tight ends out of the Iowa -- Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson -- could help liven up a Titans offense that ranked 29th in passing yards last season.

Hockenson's versatility sets him apart, while Fant's combination of size and speed make him a challenge to defend. If both are drafted in the opening round, as is expected, it would be a first.

"Coming from the University of Iowa, and how hard everyone works there and how big of a culture that [head] coach [Kirk] Ferentz and [strength] coach [Chris] Doyle and all those guys put into it over the past 20 years, just being a part of that, and the first duo to do that, it would be something special," Hockenson said at the combine.

Former Iowa tight end George Kittle set an NFL single-season record for receiving yards for a tight end last season with 1,377. San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch drafted Kittle in the fifth round in 2017 despite his limited college production because he liked the way Iowa prepares its players.

"They develop a lot of good football players. The thing that we like and a lot of NFL teams like is that they do a lot of things that they’re going to be asked to do at the next level," Lynch said at the combine. "George Kittle, for instance, he caught balls, but he also was an in-line blocker, and they were running from traditional formations. Kirk has an NFL background, so they put them in a lot of situations that we see our guys in."

Hockenson's dominance in the run game and passing game has led some evaluators to compare him to Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. There are similarities. Hockenson, who is 6-foot-5 and 251 pounds, can make contested catches down the field as defenders bounce off of him.

"I watched a few people, and [Gronkowski is] one of them. The way that he finishes the catch -- he uses his body to get into position -- is special," Hockenson said. "That's something I try to emulate in my game. I'm nowhere near him, obviously, but taking little tidbits from different players, that's something I've tried to do."

Hockenson's two touchdowns against Indiana in October showcased his ability as an in-line tight end. He made a beautiful, over-the-shoulder grab on a seam route for his first score. Then he ran a quick, out-breaking route, catching a short pass and racing 54 yards to the end zone for his second score.

ESPN's Todd McShay had the Titans, who have the No. 19 pick, taking Hockenson in his mock draft 2.0.

At 6-foot-4 and 249 pounds, Fant challenges defenses with his size and speed. He is too big for defensive backs, and his 4.5-second speed in the 40-yard dash is too fast for most linebackers.

"It helps out a lot, because in that scenario, who are you going to flex out to put on me or put on any player in that matter," Fant said. "Put a corner out there, he might be too small. Put a safety, he might be too slow. Put a linebacker, he might be too slow. So, it’s one of those things where, you get the right matchup, it could be pretty special."

Fant's speed shows when he pulls away from defenders on crossing routes. A lot of his 18 touchdowns over the past two seasons came on crossing routes in the red zone in which linebackers couldn't run with him. That would be a massive boost to the Titans' offense, which scored only 1.6 red zone touchdowns per game, 24th in the NFL.