So many difficult challenges confront a rookie player in the NFL, it frequently overwhelms them during year one. It’s difficult to cope with the pure speed and added complexity of the pro-level playbooks that it often leaves the inexperienced player swimming up-stream through the grueling 16-game schedule.
Noah Fant, the Broncos first-round draft pick, has been forced to play significant snaps during his rookie season due to a lack of depth and an injury curse that has befallen the tight end position group dating back to training camp.
His struggles have been further magnified by the lights-out play of Pittsburgh Steelers rookie linebacker Devin Bush, the man GM John Elway decided to pass on, instead trading down several slots in the first round to then select Fant at pick 20.
What the Broncos, and in particular offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello, are fully aware of is that first-year tight ends historically need more time to develop than other position groups. Even the Broncos legendary Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe required intensive coaching and development way beyond his rookie body of work.
Scangarello gained notable experience from coaching Niners stand out Pro Bowler George Kittle during his time spent on the sidelines in San Francisco. Last week, Scangarello referred to Kittle’s rookie growing pains as an example when looking at Fant’s own struggles.
"George’s first year in the league I think he led the NFL in drops," Scangarello reflected. "He was a liability in the run game at times. He would break the huddle and be unsure."
Kittle's struggles as a rookie mirrors the issues that have limited the effectiveness of the Noah Fant. Fant has so far tallied only 15 catches for 159 yards and a solitary score.
"I hate to always compare him to Kittle, but 10 drops that first year," Scangarello reflected, "I remember watching it and a guy going, ‘Can this guy be the guy?’ And now he’s the best tight end in the league. If a guy’s got it inside, you believe in him and I have no doubt he’ll get it done.”
Drops have been Fant’s biggest issue to date with three coming in the blowout loss recently vs. Kansas City. If he has let things get in his head, he is intent on addressing the problem;
“I’ve got to catch the ball," Fant said following Week 7's loss. "I’ve made those catches a thousand times in practice.”
Even the most basic football task of cutting off his own tape after those very practices is proving hard for the rookie right now. With a self-inflicted cut to his foot costing him vital preparation time in the build-up to the Indianapolis Colts game this Sunday.
Fant is expected to be a full participant in Indianapolis as he tries to get his rollercoaster rookie ride on track and provide some overdue positives for the Broncos. But first, make sure you catch the ball, rookie.