ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Noah Fant is not a receiver. He is not an offensive tackle.
He is a tight end, the most misunderstood position in professional football.
It’s a tweener job that is half receiver, half extra offensive tackle. And for the most part, fans don’t judge tight ends on the second part. There are no fantasy points for a nice block.
“A person that doesn’t know football inside and out won’t understand the significance of what you have to go through to learn the position,’’ Fant said last week in a sit-down interview with 9NEWS.
“I don’t play the traditional in-line (tight end). I play a lot in-line, but I play everything from receiver to tight end, even the O-line stuff. There’s a lot of stuff you have to know, a lot of stuff you have to be involved in. It just takes some time.
“Also an aspect people may not realize, when you’re working in the middle of the field, right?’’ Fant said in shifting to the pass pattern intricacies a tight end runs. “And there’s a bunch of bodies around, you have to figure out how to sit in the zone, how to fit in the zone, how to beat man coverage in the middle of the field – and how to not get over there too quick in routes.
“It’s a little bit different than being on the outside. It takes some time, but I think our whole tight end room, we’re coming along nicely and have a lot of guys that can play really well.”
Fant is a tight end who is considered a better receiver than blocker and there’s nothing wrong with that. Blocking tight ends don’t get selected in the first round, as Fant was out of Iowa in 2019.
He has already become one of John Elway’s better first-round selections. Fant had 40 catches, at 14.1 yards per reception, as a rookie, and 62 catches, at nearly 11 yards per reception, last year. Anyone expecting more production from Fant through his first two seasons is difficult to satisfy.
His 62 catches last year ranked 7th among the league’s tight ends.
But with the AFC West’s Darren Waller (107) and Travis Kelce (105) ranking 1-2 in tight end receptions, Fant is far from satisfied.
“Definitely hungry for more going into year three,’’ Fant said. “Even more than what I had last year. I felt like last year there were some missed opportunities. I’m really looking forward to hopefully having an expanded role in the offense and keep growing and be versatile and move all over the place.’’
“I definitely want to improve red-zone production,’’ he said. “Touchdowns, yards, catches. I’m just one of those players who is hungry for it all. I want everything to be better, everything to keep climbing. I think we’ll have a good chance to get there. It helps having Courtland (Sutton) and Jerry (Jerry) out there. A lot of people think there’s a lot of mouths to feed, and there is, but having them on the outside puts a lot of pressure on the defense that will have to spread out a little bit.’’
Fant and the Broncos are in Eagan, Minn., this week practicing along with the Vikings on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons. They will then play a preseason game at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Saturday afternoon (2 o’clock kickoff).
About the blocking. Broncos head coach Vic Fangio said from the minute Fant was the team’s No. 20 overall choice that he was a better blocker than others give him credit for. And last year, in season two, Fant’s blocking improved considerably.
“I definitely think it came a long way last year just getting more comfortable with the speed of the game, leverage, my pad level, things like that were huge,’’ Fant said. “Obviously, my rookie year I was like a deer in the headlights going against Khalil Mack, all these guys. Last year was a little bit better and I’m looking to keep improving on that.
“I go against (Bradley) Chubb and Von (Miller) every day. A lot of that progression can be attributed to those two. They’ve both helped me after practice. I gained a lot from them.”
As a receiving tight end who can block, Fant has a vested interest in who throws him the ball. It will be either Drew Lock, his quarterback for the past season-plus, or veteran Teddy Bridgewater. Any awkwardness talking to one or the other in the locker room?
“In the locker room I’m one of the guys who tries to be friends with everybody,’’ Fant said. “I try to bring a friendly attitude to everyone who walks in that locker room. Both of those guys are great in the locker room, though. Great leaders. Both of them are super friendly to everybody. They lead the team, lead the huddle. So I’m excited to see what happens. My biggest thing is, whichever quarterback can get us the ball, that’s the one I want to be in there (laughs). Hopefully, I get a couple extra balls this year.”
But only one can accept the snap in the Broncos’ regular-season opener Sept. 12 at the New York Giants.
“Both have different styles of game,’’ Fant said. “Everybody knows Teddy is the more thought-out thinker and he’s going to anticipate his throws more. And you have Drew who has that arm talent where he can go on the fly. He can put the ball where he needs it. It just depends what our offensive coordinator is going for, what our coaches are looking for, I think they’re both great quarterbacks.’’
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