Unlocking Noah Fant Crucial to Seattle Seahawks Reaching Offensive Potential

Handing him a new two-year deal based on projection more than past production, the Seahawks will be counting on a breakthrough season from Noah Fant.
Oct 15, 2023; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Seattle Seahawks tight end Noah Fant (87) completes a catch in the first quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paycor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 15, 2023; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Seattle Seahawks tight end Noah Fant (87) completes a catch in the first quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paycor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports / Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports
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While they weren't elite in any one category last season on the way to a 9-8 record and narrowly missing out on the playoffs, the Seattle Seahawks ranked in the top half of the NFL in several notable offensive metrics during the 2023 season.

Showing plenty of potency generating explosives, particularly in the passing game, Seattle tied for 10th in the NFL averaging 5.5 yards per play. Even with quarterback Geno Smith missing two starts, the team finished just outside the top 10 averaging 7.2 yards per pass attempt, while the offense also ranked 11th in points per play, posting far better numbers than most of the NFL.

However, those statistical factoids proved to largely be garbage stats, as the Seahawks took a major step backward in the scoring department, plunging from ninth in points scored in 2022 to 17th last season. At the center of those woes, few teams were less efficient finishing drives with six points inside the opposing 20-yard line, as they ranked 26th in red zone touchdown percentage at an ugly 48.15 percent, settling far too often for field goals or turnovers on downs.

What contributed most to Seattle's year-long struggles capping off red zone visits in the end zone? Despite 12 combined touchdown catches from DK Metcalf, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and Tyler Lockett, the team ranked dead-last averaging 1.7 yards per carry running the ball in the red zone, which certainly made scoring points much trickier in the most congested part of the field.

Sep 24, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; Seattle Seahawks tight end Noah Fant (87) runs for yards after the catch against the Carolina Panthers during the third quarter at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; Seattle Seahawks tight end Noah Fant (87) runs for yards after the catch against the Carolina Panthers during the third quarter at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports / Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

But aside from an inept rushing attack, the Seahawks also received minimal production from tight ends in the red zone. Between Noah Fant, Will Dissly, and Colby Parkinson, the trio combined to score two touchdowns inside the opposing 20 in 2023 after posting seven such scores one year prior, largely amounting to non-factors in those critical situations.

Most notably, while Parkinson and Dissly did find the end zone once apiece, Fant failed to score a touchdown for the first time in his five-year NFL career. Though he did have one score taken away via penalty in a Thursday night loss to the Cowboys in November, the former first-round pick might as well have been classified as a ghost in the red zone, as Smith and Drew Lock targeted him just two times in 17 regular season games.

Of course, not all of the blame for a lack of targets should be shouldered by Fant. After finding great success deploying his three-headed tight end monster in 2022, former offensive coordinator Shane Waldron did a poor job of implementing the same cast of characters effectively last season, as all three players saw significant dips in production with the position inexplicably becoming an afterthought in the passing game far too often.

For his part, even if he also was a victim of underwhelming play calling, Smith wasn't able to play the role of distributor to Fant and company in the red zone last year either. When he did try to get the ball to his tight ends in those situations, including a forced interception in Fant's direction against the Bengals that proved incredibly costly in a close road defeat, the Seahawks rarely found success.

After cleaning house with a new coaching staff coming on board and both Dissly and Parkinson leaving in free agency, the Seahawks will have a dramatically different looking tight end group with Fant as the only returning contributor from last year's team, and it remains to be seen how new coordinator Ryan Grubb will utilize the position moving forward.

While calling one of the most dynamic offenses in college football at Washington, Grubb rarely ran multi-tight end sets, a significant departure from how Waldron employed personnel with a large dose of 12 and 13 groupings. However, tight ends Jack Westover and Devin Culp combined to catch 62 passes for 641 yards and six touchdowns last year as the Huskies marched to the national championship game, hinting the position will have value for Seattle in the passing game.

In the case of Fant, there's never been any reservations about his athletic tools or skill set. Coming out of Iowa, he ran a blazing 4.50 40-yard dash and nearly hit 40 inches on the vertical jump, showcasing rare explosiveness for a 250-pound tight end. He also caught 18 touchdown passes in his last two seasons with the Hawkeyes, sparking excitement about his potential as both a field-stretching receiver and red zone weapon in the league.

But since joining the Seahawks as part of the Russell Wilson blockbuster trade two years ago, Fant's production has been fleeting at best. Last year, he caught a career-low 32 passes for 414 yards, regularly going entire games with one or fewer targets. After having no drops in 2022, he also dropped a pair of passes and wasn't quite as reliable moving the chains with 16 first down converting receptions.

Still just 26 years old, Seattle made the decision to prioritize re-signing Fant in March and quickly signed him to a two-year deal worth $21 million, putting him just outside of the top-10 highest-paid tight ends in the league. To this point, his numbers haven't justified such a contract, but both the player and organization believe he will be better utilized with Grubb calling the shots and if he plays to his potential, the deal will look to be a bargain in time.

"The coolest thing with him in what we talked about is just allowing guys to be in the best position possible that fits their game, and just wanting guys to succeed and believing in his guys," Fant said of Grubb after signing his new deal in March. "I think that's the coolest thing, having the versatility in the offense to be able to move around and stuff, so I'm excited for that."

To help Fant finally reach his ceiling, Grubb will be tasked with figuring out how to maximize his talents in the red zone, something Waldron struggled to do over the past few years. But looking at his prior track record, there is reason for hope on that front.

Back in 2022, Fant did score four touchdowns inside the opposing 20-yard line for the Seahawks, turning half of his eight targets into six points with an incredibly high efficiency rate. In his final season with the Broncos in 2021, four of his seven receptions in the red zone resulted in six points, and three of his six catches in his first two seasons resulted in a score.

Ultimately, Fant's overall numbers have been staggering considering limited opportunities. Per Pro Football Reference charting, he has never had more than 12 targets in the red zone in a single season, turning scarce chances into 11 touchdowns.

Somehow, Grubb has to find a way to manufacture more targets for Fant once Seattle does enter the red zone. Scheming will be a critical component, and as he did at Washington with Westover and Culp, having a trio of stud receivers in Metcalf, Lockett, and Smith-Njigba should make that process easier with opponents having to account for each of them and setting up ideal one-on-one matchups for tight ends deep in opposing territory.

Given the firepower the Seahawks have on the outside, scoring in the red zone shouldn't be near as difficult as they have made it over the past few years. But as teams such as the 49ers and Chiefs have proven with George Kittle and Travis Kelce dominating inside the opposing 20, having a dynamic pass-catching tight end opens up everything, making Fant arguably the most important player for Grubb to unleash this upcoming season.

Corbin K. Smith


Graduating from Manchester College in 2012, Smith began his professional career as a high school Economics teacher in Indianapolis and launched his own NFL website covering the Seahawks as a hobby. After teaching and coaching high school football for five years, he transitioned to a full-time sports reporter in 2017, writing for USA Today's Seahawks Wire while continuing to produce the Legion of 12 podcast. He joined the Arena Group in August 2018 and also currently hosts the daily Locked On Seahawks podcast with Rob Rang and Nick Lee. Away from his coverage of the Seahawks and the NFL, Smith dabbles in standup comedy, is a heavy metal enthusiast and previously performed as lead vocalist for a metal band, and enjoys distance running and weight lifting. A habitual commuter, he resides with his wife Natalia in Colorado and spends extensive time reporting from his second residence in the Pacific Northwest.