Is Jake Butt the Denver Broncos’ best tight end when healthy?

(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images) /

The Denver Broncos have a bunch of really good tight ends, if only they could stay healthy. Is Jake Butt the best of the bunch when 100 percent?

If you scour the Big Ten All-Conference teams over the last six years, you’re going to find someone the Denver Broncos drafted on the list.

In 2014, Jeff Heuerman was named 2nd-team All-Big Ten.

In 2015 and 2016, Jake Butt was named 1st-team All-Big Ten.

In 2017, Troy Fumagalli was named 1st-team All-Big Ten.

In 2018, Noah Fant was named 1st-team All-Big Ten.

It’s safe to say the Denver Broncos pay close attention to the Big Ten when it comes to the tight end position over the last five years, and all four of these guys should be on the Broncos’ final roster this upcoming season.

But which one of them is the best?

Well, Jeff Heuerman is the highest paid. Noah Fant is the best prospect and was the highest draft pick. But when the playing field is even and all four of these guys are completely healthy — and I pray we will see that day — I think the best overall player here is Jake Butt.

I don’t think it will be long before Noah Fant takes over that top spot but at this point in time, I think Butt is still one of the most underrated players on the team.

He has had three major knee injuries, and those are incredibly unfortunate but they don’t necessarily mean Butt’s skills are different or worse.

ACL injuries simply are not what they used to be in terms of player recovery. Three ACL injuries?  That may be a different story, but word out of Broncos OTAs is Butt looks fresh.

Butt sadly tore his ACL after three weeks of solid productivity for the Broncos last year. He caught eight passes so he was averaging nearly three catches per game. Obviously, if we extrapolate that over a whole season, he could have had 45-48 catches.

Butt has apparently seen all of the doubt filling up Twitter in recent weeks and months.

This highlight video shows Butt — along with fellow IR-mates Heuerman and Fumagalli — on the field for OTAs. Butt is not practicing in full just yet. He will not be unleashed fully until training camp, or at least that’s the hope according to Vic Fangio.

It’s too easy to forget that Butt was a first-team All-American in college. He — like Noah Fant — was a first-round NFL prospect before a knee injury in the final game of his collegiate career.

That injury sent Butt plummeting down draft boards before the Broncos scooped him up with the top pick of the fifth round in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Butt tried working towards playing his rookie season, but after some practice reps the Broncos decided (or needed) to put him on the shelf for his rookie year. That wasn’t an unexpected or unacceptable outcome given the circumstances.

2018 was meant to be Butt’s comeback season, and he was the talk of the offseason. He was making all the plays in OTAs, training camp, and everyone was geeked up to see what he could do with regular season reps.

Butt didn’t disappoint.

He caught eight passes in the first three weeks of the season when the Broncos went 2-1, but suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice and was placed on IR for the second straight year.

It’s fair to wonder if Butt is capable of staying healthy at this point. Durability wasn’t a concern for him in college, at least not in his most productive seasons when he was an All-American and first-team All-Big Ten player.

Durability has been an issue for him in his first two NFL seasons, but he can make a big leap forward in year three. The Broncos will likely be very cautious about his reps in practices. We may not see a ton of Butt in preseason action, at least not early on.

This is a player the Broncos know can be a weapon. They know his draft status is not representative of the level of prospect he is.

Butt is still just 23 years old. He won’t turn 24 until July. There are some rookies coming into this league who are 24.

Next. Broncos 53-man roster prediction. dark

The Broncos did the right thing by not necessarily putting all of their chips in the Jake Butt basket this offseason when they re-signed Heuerman and drafted Fant, but there’s no question that Butt is the total package at the tight end position when healthy and if all of these guys are operating at 100 percent, I would argue he’s the best player at the position on Denver’s roster.

For now.