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Iowa tight end TJ Hockenson joins 3 other Hawkeyes leaving early for NFL draft | Big Red Today blog

TJ Hockenson, the John Mackey award winner as the nation’s best tight end, became the fourth Hawkeye underclassmen to declare early for the NFL draft.

Hockenson announced his decision Monday, the final day players could declare for the draft. He follows three other Hawkeyes who had previously made similar announcements — tight end Noah Fant (an Omaha South graduate), defensive back Amani Hooker and defensive end Anthony Nelson.

“Amani, Anthony and T.J. have been outstanding members of our team on the field and as leaders within the program,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said in a press release. “While we are disappointed to see them leave, we recognize this is an important decision and we wish them the very best as they pursue the draft.”

According to draft trackers posted on CBS Sports and as of Monday afternoon, Iowa had the third most early departures for the NFL draft among Big Ten teams. Ohio State and Penn State each lost five, Michigan lost three, Michigan State lost two and Wisconsin lost one.

Nebraska has not had any players declare early for the NFL draft.

Iowa will likely be able to absorb the loss of Nelson given the depth at defensive line. And while Hooker’s versatility in switching between safety and linebacker will be missed, the Hawkeyes have plenty of options in the back end of its defense.

Replacing Hockenson and Fant, however, might be Iowa’s biggest challenge this offseason. Fant caught 39 passes for 518 yards and seven TDs, and his presence helped free up Hockenson to make plays.

“My dream has always been to play in the NFL, and I believe now is the right time,” Hockenson said in an Instagram post announcing his departure.

The Hawkeyes will hope that seldom-used veteran tight ends Drew Cook, Shaun Beyer and Nate Wieting can step up next season. Iowa will also likely look to get wide receivers Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith more involved in the game plan.

Information from the Associated Press was used for this report.

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