Denver Broncos: Noah Fant taking the step into “elite” in 2021?

Denver Broncos TE #87 Noah Fant. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Denver Broncos TE #87 Noah Fant. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

Of all the questions facing the Denver Broncos heading into the 2021 season, how high Noah Fant’s ceiling is may be one that comes up the least. Nobody seems overly concerned about Fant’s development, nor should they.

Fant is an absolute stud and a superstar in the making. As dismal as the Denver Broncos’ offense has been over the last few seasons, Fant’s productivity at the tight end has been teetering on historic.

Over the course of the last 15 years, there have been only six tight ends in the NFL with more receiving yards in their first two seasons than Noah Fant.

Let that sink in a bit.

The Denver Broncos drafted Fant in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft after trading down 10 spots with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The decision to take a tight end in the first round was not unanimously beloved and some analytics folks didn’t like Fant coming out of Iowa for his lack of physicality at the catch point and after-the-catch production despite his elite athletic traits.

There was some validity to their concerns at the time, but for the most part, major concerns about Fant’s game were unfounded.

Just like Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy, Fant had a bout with drops in his rookie year in the NFL. At one point early on in his rookie season, many fans in Broncos Country were already calling Fant a bust due to his issue with drops and missed blocking assignments.

If only patience existed during the heat of the moment of an NFL game, fans would have been able to see the forest through the tree. The “tree” in this case being Fant’s typical rookie struggles. The “forest” being — again — nearly historic production over the course of his first two NFL seasons.

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More and more tight ends in the modern NFL are becoming borderline WR1 caliber receiving threats for their respective teams. Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, and George Kittle are current examples of that, and Fant could be up next.

In his second NFL season, Fant struggled somewhat with nagging injuries throughout the season, but he played through and caught 62 passes in 15 games, cutting down on his drop rate, and improving his catch percentage despite a substantial increase in targets.

Through his first two seasons, Fant has proven the analytics folks wrong in their assumptions about his after-the-catch abilities. He ranked number one in the NFL in his rookie season in YAC per reception and was fourth among all tight ends in 2020.

It would be shocking to see Fant come in at under 100 total targets for the Denver Broncos in 2021. Even considering he had some injuries he was dealing with in 2020, Fant’s usage in the offense was inconsistent at times.

It seems difficult to say given the overall success of the offense and the team as a whole, but Fant has been outstanding in his first two NFL seasons for the Denver Broncos. Because of the Broncos’ rich winning history, everything has been getting graded by a lot of fans on a really harsh curve.

Finding things to be positive about is not difficult if you just look for them, and the Denver Broncos have something really positive going with Fant, a matchup nightmare at his position and a superstar player who has been blossoming before our very eyes.