Broncos' Noah Fant Led All NFL Tight Ends in Crucial Stat Category
Denver Broncos tight end Noah Fant had a solid rookie season — one that was typical for tight ends in that, while he had plenty to learn about the NFL game, he showed promise plenty of times.
Fant was particularly effective, though, at getting yards after a catch, as evidenced by Football Outsiders' ranking of top players in YAC+.
Bryan Knowles explains YAC+ as estimating how much a receiver, tight end, or running back gained compared to what one would have expected an average player catching passes of similar length in similar down-and-distance situations.
In other words, players weren’t simply measured in yards after the catch, but measured by gaining it in particular situations.
No. 1 in YAC+
Fant ranked No. 1 in YAC+ for tight ends with +2.411 on 58 targets, edging out the Tennesee Titans’ Jonnu Smith with +2.374 and the New Orleans Saints’ Jared Cook with +2.372.
For the 2020 season, Fant finished with 40 catches for 562 yards and three touchdowns. Those totals aren’t unusual for rookie tight ends. One can go back and look at top tight ends through the years and most of them didn’t have eye-popping numbers as rookies, but they broke out by their third season, although it's worth mentioning that Fant's production set franchise rookie records in receptions and receiving yards (for tight ends).
Fant had a number of big plays throughout his rookie season, though. His longest play was for 75 yards against the Cleveland Browns in Week 9, which happened to be Brandon Allen’s first start for the Broncos.
Fant had a 31-yard play against the Vikings after the bye week with Allen under center. And when Drew Lock took over, Fant twice had big plays.
Fant's first was in Lock’s second start, against the Houston Texans in Week 14, with a 48-yard catch. His second came the following week against the Chiefs, a 43-yard gain.
Fant’s ability to get open and break tackles helped a lot in getting those big gains. It also gives the Broncos plenty of reasons for optimism that the second-year tight end will take his game to the next level.
Football Outsiders also ranked Courtland Sutton in its top-20 for YAC+, No. 17 overall at +0.6. Sutton, though, was more notable for making tough catches against good coverage than for his ability to break tackles.
The YAC+ statistic wasn’t kind to the Broncos running backs last year, because Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman both ranked in the bottom-20 — Freeman No. 46 overall and Lindsay No. 48.
New acquisition Melvin Gordon didn’t make either the top-20 or bottom-20 for running backs, placing him between No. 21 and 30, because Football Outsiders ranked 50 backs. While Gordon would be an upgrade over Lindsay and Freeman in this aspect, he would be considered average in YAC+ for 2019.
Of course, the three running backs — and other Broncos players, too — could show improvement as a receiver or produce more big plays after receptions. And YAC+, like any statistics, is just one means of measuring a player.
But getting back to Fant, we saw his potential for great things. It was exciting to see that, and it will be exciting to see what he can do in his second season in the NFL.