Davis: 'I like Noah Fant better' than T.J. Hockenson

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Photo credit Photo: Jeffrey Becker - USA TODAY Sports

Following a busy and, arguably, successful start to free agency in the National Football League, the Buffalo Bills look ahead to the 2019 NFL Draft, which is now 21 days away.

After signing five offensive lineman so far, many experts expect the Bills to address other positions with the ninth overall pick in the first round. Many of the deepest positions in this draft are all positions that the Bills, too, require depth in. There is an abundance of top-10 talent at the defensive line position, as well as offensive line, and tight end. With an overwhelming amount of mock drafts that are constantly being altered and modified, fans have to be wondering which NFL analyst is thinking the same way as Bills head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane.

NFL Draft analyst Charles Davis from NFL Network, joined Howard Simon on Thursday to sort out what the Bills might do with their ninth overall pick later this month. In his latest mock draft, Davis has the Bills taking tight end Noah Fant out of the University of Iowa, even with fellow teammate T.J. Hockenson being on the board at nine.

“I know that T.J. Hockenson, his teammate at Iowa, is probably the consensus No. 1 tight end, but I like Noah Fant better,” said Davis. “I think Fant is a little bit [of a] bigger target. He’s faster, quicker, gets downfield for you better, gives you a few more options in the passing game, and he’s a better blocker, I believe, than he gets credit for.”

Both of these players were crucial pieces to the Hawkeye offense. Over the past two college football seasons, their production was extremely similar. Hockenson caught 73 passes for 1,080 yards, and nine touchdowns; Fant had 69 receptions for 1,013 yards, and 18 touchdowns. The one major difference between the two is that Fant had caught double the amount of touchdowns in the same amount of time. For McDermott and Beane, statistics are only part of what they base their decisions on. From how they addressed tight end in free agency—signing Tyler Kroft—the staff is looking for a tight end that cannot only catch the ball, but also provide value as a blocker. Davis finds that Fant’s blocking ability is undervalued.

“I think the reason that Hockenson is on top of most [draft] boards is that he is a better all-around player in terms of mauling people at the line of scrimmage at the point of attack,” Davis pointed out. “I give him his due, he’s terrific. But I think the narrative is turned so much that ‘Hockenson does this, Fant doesn’t do that’ and that’s just simply not true. Fant blocks, he just does not block as well as Hockenson, and, in today’s NFL, most people want the receiving tight end more than they want the blocking tight end. Despite all the lip service you will hear about ‘Gotta have a tight-end who can block’—take a look at who the better tight-end are in the league, the ones who get the most respect, and you tell me how many of them are getting it for their blocking acumen first.”  

Davis’ point makes the decision between the two even more compelling. He believes a tight end like either of these guys would be beneficial for a young quarterback like Josh Allen. Either of these guys are valuable enough, both in skill and development, that drafting them at ninth overall would not be a reach for the Bills. If they were to trade down to a lower pick, there is no guarantee that either of them would make it that much farther down the draft line.

However, since the Bills lost Kyle Williams to retirement, there is a huge hole to fill on the defensive line. The team has some players in place to make an impact, including second-year defensive tackle Harrison Phillips and recently re-signed tackle Jordan Phillips; however, the depth at both edge rusher and interior defensive lineman are a need for the Bills. Davis finds that it could be very likely that the Bills use their ninth overall pick get a stud in a draft that has the potential to produce some perennial stars on the defensive line-of-scrimmage.

Based on where the Bills are in the draft and the teams that have picks preceding theirs, it is likely, according to Davis, that the possible top-three available defensive lineman will be Mississippi defensive end Montez Sweat, Michigan defensive end Rashan Gary, and Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver.

“I like all three of them,” said Davis. “Based on what I’m gleaning right now, the guy most likely to still be there at nine would be Oliver, first. I think Sweat has the second best possibility. Gary the third because I’m anticipating the Giants might lock in on Gary because of size, and, knowing Dave Gettleman their [general manager], size does matter to him.”

 Each of these players bring a high level of skill to the field, but each are different in their own way. Gary is the most “unsure” among the three because of a lackluster stat line. In the three seasons for the Wolverines, Gary had only nine and a half sacks, including three and a half in 2018.

Sweat was the talk of the NFL Draft Combine in Indianapolis after running a 4.41-second 40-yard dash. His speed as an edge rusher could prove mighty useful for a Bills defensive front that is looking to add speed off the edge. Sweat could learn a good deal from Bills defensive-end Jerry Hughes, who also uses his speed to his advantage.

Oliver, however, is the most likely option to still be on the draft board when the Bills' pick is up. After a dazzling campaign in 2017, where he recorded 73 tackles and 5.5 sacks, Oliver was on the mind of scouts throughout the past year. His ability to get up-field and cause havoc in the offensive backfield could be what the Bills need on rotation in the interior of the defense. Davis pointed out that the team that drafts Oliver needs to know how to use him.

“He dropped to about 280-281[-pounds] for his Pro Day and went through his drills, and looked like the Ed Oliver I expect,” Davis stated. “A terrific, superior up-field rusher, quickness off the ball. He’s not going to be what we call a ‘zero-technique,’ a nose-guard. If you put him at a nose, you’re making a mistake because one: he’s not going to take on the double team and eat them up, and two: you’re taking away his gifts.”

By gifts, Davis meant exactly what he stated earlier, his ability to get off the ball fast, and disrupt opponent’s backfields. Oliver is one of those players that could have a major impact for a team like the Bills without taking a majority of the snaps.

You can hear Davis' entire interview below: