The addition of Noah Fant in the first round for the Denver Broncos is one that can have an instant impact. Will he join the OROY discussion?
Historically, the tight end position is not drafted high, but you also do not see two tight ends from the same school taken in the first round. Literally.
The Denver Broncos were linked to both Iowa Hawkeyes tight ends TJ Hockenson and Noah Fant long before the draft began. Hockenson was taken by the Detroit Lions at eight and Fant to Denver at 20. Denver could have drafted Fant with pick 10. They traded that selection to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who took Michigan linebacker Devin Bush.
Fant easily could have been taken 10, but the value at 20 for Fant was too difficult to pass up for one of the NFL Draft’s most dynamic playmakers.
In a league dominated by Travis Kelce, George Kittle, Evan Engram, and many more, the Denver Broncos had to address this position. For the longest time, Denver has been needing longevity at tight end. The last season of note for a tight end was Owen Daniels in 2015, and Jacob Tamme and Julius Thomas before that with Peyton Manning.
Thomas was that tight end for the short period he was (healthy) with the Denver Broncos. It just did not work out long-term. The same goes for Tony Scheffler. Both could not stick.
Fast forward to the additions of Jake Butt, Jeff Heuerman, and Troy Fumagalli it remains to be seen what they can do. Butt contributed immediately in 2018 but was cut short again with an ACL injury. Heuerman has talent, but he is the same story. Every season for him he has dealt with injuries. Fumagalli has not yet seen regular season game action.
The point here is no player in this position group as talented as Fant. Football teams about upgrading and still trusting the players that are on the roster. But with Fant at 20 was so hard to pass up.
There’s also another thing about Fant and Denver. Remember when George Kittle’s name was mentioned with new wave athletic tight ends? New offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello coached in San Francisco and saw him run wild. Remember his game against Denver in week 14? Kittle racked up 218 yards against the defense.
Kittle is a mentor to Fant. There is a strong Iowa connection between both of them. Fant even called him a mentor. It is not out of the realm possibility that Fant sees his production in year one reach terrific heights.
Fant’s athleticism fits this mold of the new NFL. He can stretch every blade of grass to get open. One area where Kittle does exceptionally well is working middle of the field with seam routes. Fant is fast enough to work routes like a wide receiver. A true mismatch nightmare based on everything with his tape. Also because of his size, he is a tough customer to tackle. There’s one touchdown against North Texas where it took three defenders to bring him down. Fant is a scary weapon on offense.
There’s plenty of talk about Fant and his blocking. Here’s the deal. It is not as bad as people are making it out to be. All Fant needs to do is be good enough to block. For the doubters out there, Fant attended the University of Iowa where sound technique is everything for players. It’s a ripple effect to all members of the team.
This is arguably why Denver looks strongly at the Big Ten Conference for talent. In this case the tight end position. The point is tight ends coach Wade Harman and Scangarello are not the only ones working with Fant. Offensive line coach Mike Munchak will also, hopefully. If Munchak can work closely with Fant to the point the blocking reaches the level acceptable for Denver, look out.
If the dreams we have for Fant become reality he will enter Offensive Rookie of the Year conversation. Also, this means Joe Flacco is in for a solid season. Flacco loves his tight ends, and that’s well-documented.
This means Fant will see plenty of passes from Flacco in year one. Denver is searching for their first 1,000-yard receiving tight end since Shannon Sharpe. We don’t know if Fant will accomplish this, but if it happens he will be smack in the conversation for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
Kyler Murray and some others will get the largest publicity, but do not sleep for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award.