In 2019, tight end Noah Fant earned PFWA All-Rookie honors after setting Denver Broncos rookie tight end records for receptions (40) and receiving yards (562), totaling three touchdowns.
It was a more-than-encouraging start for the former Iowa Hawkeye, especially considering that he had to catch passes from three different starting quarterbacks and didn't even open the season as the team's starting tight end.
Fant built on his rookie body of work by setting new career-highs in receptions and yards, registering 62 catches (the eighth-most by a Broncos tight end in a single season) for 673 yards and another three scores. He started 14 games, appearing in 15 in 2020.
All-in, Fant has totaled 102 receptions for 1,235 yards (12.1 avg.), and six touchdowns in his first two NFL seasons — putting his name in the Broncos' all-time annals within a relatively short amount of time.
ESPN's collection of NFL execs, coaches, and scouts yawned. Or at least, that's the implication after ESPN snubbed Fant in its top-10 NFL tight ends list, as polled by league sources.
However, Fant was an honorable mention, for whatever that's worth.
NOAH FANT, DENVER BRONCOS: "One of the most explosive players on this list. I think we will be having a far different conversation about him a year from now; [he'll be] high on this list. Not quite there yet." -- AFC scout
Who were the top-10, you ask? To wit:
- George Kittle, San Francisco
- Travis Kelce, Kansas City
- Darren Waller, Las Vegas
- Mark Andrews, Baltimore
- T.J. Hockenson, Detroit
- Dallas Goedert, Philadelphia
- Hunter Henry, New England
- Evan Engram, New York Giants
- Jonnu Smith, New England
- Zach Ertz, Philadelphia
That's right, Henry, the guy who caught 60 passes for 613 yards and four touchdowns last year and was so good that the original team that drafted him was willing to let him hit the bricks in free agency, is not only listed higher than Fant but is ranked seventh in this list (poll?). The ultimate indignity is seeing Fant's Iowa teammate Hockenson ranked, not only higher than he, but in the top-5 after a decent but nothing-to-write-home-about Year 2 with 67 catches for 723 yards and six touchdowns.
Who knows the veracity of the polling ESPN sourced around the league on this one but just for fun, let's take it at face value that Fant isn't considered to be a top-10 tight end by his peers and rival coaches around the league. What are the implications?
Honestly, as impressive as Fant has been since the Broncos drafted him in the first round back in 2019, he has not fulfilled his potential due to a pair of critical factors: coaching and quarterback play.
Last year, Fant had to deal with Drew Lock's ups and downs, as well as Jeff Driskel and Brett Rypien after the starter went down with a shoulder injury in Week 2. Adding insult to injury, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur struggled to feature Fant in the offense consistently and truly utilize him as the weapon he is.
Here's to hoping that having a year under his belt with Fant and the Broncos' collection of offensive talent will help Shurmur better understand how to maximize the tight end's unique talent. The same goes for Lock if he beats out Teddy Bridgewater this summer.
As for Fant, he's poised to take a quantum leap forward in Year 3 by figuring out how to be more consistent.
“Consistency. I think that's the biggest thing," Fant said back in May. "Consistency is a big word I've been focusing on this year... Consistently being at the top level of play amongst the league. I'm not just competing with myself. I'm competing with every tight end across the league. There's some good ones, so I have to step up to that level.”
We can't wait to see how 2021 unfolds for Fant. As that AFC scout said, the conversation surrounding Fant will likely be vastly different a year from now.
Follow Chad on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
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