We have kept you waiting for this during our rookie review series. But wait no longer, gentle reader, for our first tight end review is finally here. Denver Broncos rookie Noah Fant is the first of his position to come under our microscope, and reviewing his rookie campaign certainly makes for interesting reading.
For those in need of a reminder, Fant was one of the most impressive specimens to come into the NFL at his position in recent history. His measurables from the NFL scouting combine continue to astound.
Many eyes were on Fant as he entered the NFL, and those eyes continued to stay on him throughout his first year in the league. Let’s see how he got on, shall we?
By The Numbers
In writing about TEs, I am morally bound to point out that very few first-year players at this position enjoy great success. The position comes with a sharp and steep learning curve. That is why I insist that no one should immediately bring their palm to meet their face when looking at the above numbers. They’re not great, I know. But the Broncos offense wasn’t great in 2019, either. The Broncos finished 2019 28th in total offense as well as passing offense.
Still, Fant had his moments during the season. Despite averaging only 7.1 PPR points per game, Fant did produce two top-12 finishes. He scored more than 20 points on each occasion. He produced TE2 numbers or better nine times. After a slow start to his season, Fant became a genuine focal point of the Broncos passing attack. The image below shows as much.
I would be remiss if I were not to point out the negatives, however. Fant scored only three touchdowns all season, with only one after Week 9. Despite playing an average of 44 snaps per game, there were games when he barely registered on the fantasy radar. Fant scored five PPR points or less eight times. He followed up a 21.3 outing against the Texans in Week 14 with 12 points combined in the next three games. His opportunities decreased once Drew Lock became the starting quarterback in Week 13.
The advent of the Lock era brought about a definite switch of emphasis regarding Fant’s role in the offense. His target share in the games prior to Week 13 made for encouraging reading.
Once Lock was running the offense, the opportunities slowed down.
In order to find players who enjoyed comparable seasons, I did what we’ve done in the past when carrying out this series. I set the RotoViz Screener to find rookies from 2010 to 2019 and selected some basic production and usage numbers as variables. Then I asked the Screener to find seasons comparable to my target player — in this instance, Fant.
As you would expect given his athletic profile, Fant compares favorably to some seriously athletic first-year TEs. His comparison to these players is also positive moving forward considering that Fant was younger in his rookie season than Tony Moeaki, Tyler Eifert, and George Kittle. Blair Andrews has done a great deal of work looking at the importance of the age of rookie TEs in determining future fantasy production.
As a possible range of outcomes for Fant, let’s take a look at how these players fared in their second seasons.
Any player able to warrant comparisons to George Kittle is one that should excite the casual observer. Kittle and Fant are both former Iowa TEs too. But on the whole, this group of players’ second seasons is not too much to get excited about when you look closer at the numbers.
David Njoku did increase his yardage output and became a more efficient receiver. But he enjoyed nowhere near the leap that Kittle took. Tyler Eifert and Dwayne Allen appear to have pictures of efficiency and production in their second seasons. However, both of them only played one game as sophomores. As for Tony Moeaki? Well after a promising rookie season in 2010, he missed his entire second season due to injury.
It honestly will not take much for Fant to outperform these comps in his second season. I mean, just getting on to and staying on the field for more than 60 minutes will be enough. But if he is to be a success in his sophomore campaign, he’ll look to do something that he already had to do in college. Namely, follow in Kittle’s footsteps. Not bad advice.
Despite a disappointing end to the season, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about Noah Fant heading into 2020. As I write this, he and Courtland Sutton are the top two options in the Broncos passing game. I would expect more weapons to be brought in for Lock during the draft and free agency. But these are the two with some chemistry already with Lock.
The Broncos offense will be coordinated by former Giants head coach Pat Shurmur. Without wanting to descend into coach centric analysis, Shurmur’s recent offenses have usually made use of the TE. We need only look back to the success enjoyed by Kyle Rudolph in Minnesota, and Evan Engram / Kaden Smith in New York.
Fantasy drafters are not going out of their way to snap Fant up at present. Over at the FFPC, he is currently the 11th TE to be taken on average. This is a couple of spots behind Jared Cook and just before Dallas Goedert. Given the overall question marks surrounding the Broncos offense, Noah Fant strikes me as a player I’ll consider as a top streaming option to begin the season. If pressed to take a TE early in drafts, he would not be my first option. But keep his name handy, especially if the Broncos do not address their skill positions this offseason.