It may have taken 15 weeks, but it seems Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur finally figured out how to deploy tight end Noah Fant.
On Saturday against the Buffalo Bills, there weren’t many positives to take away from the game for the Broncos. One positive takeaway, though? Fant’s role may have been figured out.
Against the Bills, Denver targeted Fant early and often, making him an integral part of the game plan, which led to his best outing of the season, finishing with a career-high eight catches for 68 yards and a score.
He flashed his burst in and out of cuts, showed strong hands to pluck the football out of the air, and displayed some physicality downfield with the football in his hands. Let's take a look at the epiphany Shurmur had with Fant and why fans should be excited that this carpenter seems to finally have figured out how to put this sharp tool to use.
Denver did a really nice job scheming up a handful of quick outs for Fant on Saturday, getting him one-on-one in space against linebackers for an easy pitch-and catch to kick-start the offense.
A simple design here, but it’s a great start to get QB Drew Lock into a rhythm.
Denver condenses Fant down onto the line and motions KJ Hamler to the opposite side, identifying coverage. From there, Jerry Jeudy runs the clearout route, allowing Fant to run underneath against Tremaine Edmunds in coverage, which is an advantage for Fant.
It’s not super creative again, but it’s tried and true, and worked often Saturday for Fant and the Broncos.
This time, on the opposite side of the formation, Denver runs a clearout route and lets Fant run the speed out against a linebacker in coverage, this time it being A.J. Klein.
These are easy throws for a guy like Lock, who has a strong arm. It’s three steps and bang, the ball is out. You don’t always need chunk yards; you need to be consistent. That’s what these routes accomplished for Fant and the offense.
Physical Route-Running and Great Hands
When Buffalo adjusted to the quick outs and started to get physical with Fant early in his routes, the second-year tight end answered the bell and came through with a great play for a touchdown late in the first half.
This was always going to be a corner route, but Klein tries to disrupt timing by getting physical with Fant at the top of his stem. That doesn’t faze Fant though, who powers through the contact to continue his route.
His ability to fight through the contact allows Fant to place the ball where only Fant can get it. He makes an excellent hands catch while diving to the back corner of the end zone, pulling in the pass to bring the Broncos within a score.
We’ve seen this type of play before with Fant and the Broncos.
It’s a classic block-and-release, designed to give Lock a checkdown option in case of pressure.
Here, nobody opens up downfield, so Lock dumps it off to a wide-open Fant in the flat. From there, Fant dishes out some punishment with the football in his hands, barreling over a defender along the sideline to pick up some additional yardage.
Settling Into the Zone
As you can see again, Klein tries to bump Fant off of his route early on. He nearly succeeds here against Fant, but the second-year tight end does a great job gathering himself and getting his eyes back on Lock on the rollout.
As he eyes Lock on the rollout, Fant also feels and sees the space he’s entered into. He has nobody around him. Knowing that, Fant does a great job stopping and settling, showing Lock his numbers for the strike on the move to gain 16 yards.
Overall, Fant played a strong game. Sure, he didn’t run a route over 15 yards according to Next Gen Stats, but maybe that’s his game right now.
Fant can be a key possession threat with his sure hands. Again, Shurmur seems to have figured it out even though it took until Week 15.
I’ll be keeping my eye on Fant’s usage in these final two games. Hopefully, it’s more like Week 15 than, say, Week 13 at Kansas City.