Bruce Arians: Broncos' Noah Fant 'One of the Best TEs in the League'
The 0-2 Denver Broncos will host the 1-1 Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday at Mile High. For the first time this season, the Broncos will have close to 6,000 fans in the stands at Empower Field at Mile High.
One of the primary attractions for any member of Broncos Country? Second-year tight end Noah Fant.
Fant's season has started off with a bang, as the former first-rounder has found the end zone in each of the Broncos' two games. Fant's talents haven't escaped the attention of Buccaneers' head coach Bruce Arians, who paid the tight end a massive compliment during his Week 3 conference call with media.
“Fant is one of the best tight ends in the league," Arians said via NFL Network's James Palmer.
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It should come as no surprise that Fant is already garnering that level of buzz. One year removed from his franchise record-setting rookie campaign, the explosive tight end has hit the ground running and seems destined to produce that Year 2 quantum leap that we saw from wideout Courtland Sutton in 2019.
Through two games, Fant has been targeted 11 times, hauling in nine catches for 138 yards (12.5 YPC avg) and two touchdowns. His rare combination of 6-foot-4, 250-pound size with a receiver's route-running prowess and twitched-up explosiveness — to say nothing of his 4.5s speed — renders him a difficult assignment for opponents on gameday.
In last week's 26-21 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick — widely considered to be one of, if not the, best safeties in the NFL — could not contend with Fant in coverage. Like all great tight end mismatches, Fant is too big and strong for cornerbacks to handle and too fast and precise for linebackers and safeties.
You'd think that fact would be more obvious to Broncos' offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. Fant's production has been good, but he's only been involved in the Broncos' game-plan in four quarters. In Week 1, he exploded in the first half with five catches for 81 yards and a score. Shurmur didn't scheme the ball Fant's way after halftime.
Last week in Pittsburgh, Fant wasn't utilized in the first half, but came on strong in the second after Shurmur made a few adjustments. The coach deserves credit for making the right adjustments but it is curious that Fant isn't getting more of the offensive focus.
As our Nick Kendell said on Tuesday night's Building The Broncos podcast, with Sutton lost for the season, Fant should be getting 8-10 targets per game. Period, end of story.
With Sutton gone, the Buccaneers will certainly work to bracket Fant but that won't necessarily mean he won't find a way to get open. If he's getting doubled early, that just means wideouts Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler, and Tim Patrick are going to have to win their one-on-ones.
Even with Drew Lock out for the next 2-6 weeks, the Broncos' array of aerial weapons is formidable. Stop-gap QB Jeff Driskel did a great job getting those playmakers the ball last week in relief of Lock, and that included Fant especially in the second half.
It's going to be fun to see how Fant grows this year even with a little turnover at quarterback.