Noah Fant Was Not Threatened by Broncos Adding Two Tight Ends in Offseason
The Denver Broncos traded back in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft to select tight end Noah Fant. As a rookie, Fant produced in spurts but when it was all said and done, he turned in a body of work that set new franchise tight end records in receptions and yards.
The Broncos response? The veteran Nick Vannett was signed in free agency while Albert Okwuegbunam — who runs a faster 40-time than Fant (4.49) — was drafted in the fourth round.
With the Broncos holding their first padded practice of training camp on Friday with a fully integrated squad (both rookies and veterans), fans got the chance to hear from Fant and he shared his thoughts on the team's decision to invest both draft and free-agency resources into the tight end position, revealing why he never questioned it seriously.
“Not really, I know when the Broncos took me that they took me for a reason," Fant said on Friday during a virtual presser after practice. "That’s all I really worry about. I’m trying to get better. Obviously after talking to our coaches and things like that I’m just trying to become the best tight end I can be."
Fant is focused on developing his own game and honing his skill-set. He knows how the Broncos coaches feel about him as an up-and-coming player one year removed from being a first-round pick and coming off a record-setting rookie debut.
Don't get it twisted, though. Instead of taking any sort of offense to the additions of Vannett and Okwuegbunam, Fant quickly saw the silver lining and is glad to have them both in the room.
"I’m happy to have those guys. They’re both great guys," Fant said. "Nick’s a super funny dude. He’s obviously a veteran in our room. Albert’s been great too. He’s a young guy coming in. It’s a lot of fun having both of them in the room. Hopefully we can all get better together.”
Fant's focus is on himself and his team, not so much on fending off newcomers at the tight end position. And seeing what the NFL's top players at the position are commanding by way of contract extensions (Travis Kelce and George Kittle), he's intent on doing what he has to in order to establish himself in that same stratosphere.
“I want to be looked at in the same group as those guys," Fant said. "If I can be in the same conversation as those guys, then I’m doing what I’m supposed to trying and getting on that path I want to be on. Obviously, both of those guys have had a couple of years of experience in the league. I still have a lot to learn and progressing. I definitely want to get there one day.”
Fant is certainly cultivating the right mindset and with a dynamic young quarterback in tow and a new offensive coordinator intent on moving him around and featuring him in the offense, it could be only a matter of time before that first-round talent gets him there. The cream always rises to the top.
“I’d say my favorite thing with [offensive coordinator] Coach [Pat] Shurmur is just early on I’m moving around a lot. He’s moving me around, using me in different places," Fant said. "I’ll be in the slot, I’ll be in-line and I’ll be outside as a wide receiver. I think that’s what I love the most just being able to have a versatile game and do a lot of different things, take advantage of a lot of different matchups."
As I told the Sports Illustrated studio (see: video above) earlier this week, Fant is my pick to be the Broncos' breakout player of 2020. Last year, wide receiver Courtland Sutton stormed onto the NFL scene as a second-year player, blowing the doors down on the way to a Pro Bowl selection, and Fant is positioned to be that guy in 2020.
Vannett will be used in the Broncos offense but nowhere close to the level that Fant is. Meanwhile, Okwuegbunam has a long, long ways to go before earning a role in this offense.
These are two realities Fant knows and understands full well.