The Broncos moved back in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft to select Iowa tight end Noah Fant at No. 20 overall. It’s been years since the Broncos had an impact tight end and they decided to make a splash in the draft this year by selecting one of the best in this class.
Fant comes in with high expectations even though history shows that rookie tight ends rarely make a huge impact. Training camp started this last week for the Broncos and we get to see Fant compete against guys like Jeff Heuerman, Troy Fumagalli and Jake Butt on a daily basis. The rookie has looked good at times, but there are also some big changes he must make to the approach of his game.
In order to start as early as possible for the Broncos, Fant needs to finish. In this article, I explain why.
During the first four days of training camp, Fant has been called out by teammates twice for not finishing plays during drills. On Thursday, he was called out by Emmanuel Sanders for not running through after making a catch. On Saturday, Fant was again called out, this time by Courtland Sutton for the same thing.
Fant has been making catches and then failing to run through and “finish” the drill by sprinting towards the end zone. It seems like a minor incident, but players do take that extra effort seriously.
Broncos head coach Vic Fangio likes when teammates “self-police” the rest of the roster.
“I do. I didn’t particularly see it, but I like it. Peer pressure is better than coaching pressure. If you notice here, (during) most of the drills, the coaches are off to the side. I don’t want them screaming and hollering instructions to the players. In the game, they’re out there on their own. We can’t help them in the game, so don’t be helping them in practice. Your leaders have to come from those 11 guys that are on the field for you at any given time. They’ve got to work through it. I like that.” Fangio said.
On Sunday, Fant did not get called out by his teammates but there were a couple of plays where he could’ve given a little extra effort. One pass thrown his way was low and away, but Fant did not go all out to make a diving catch. Instead, he leaned out as the pass hit the dirt just out in front of him. Later in practice, Fant got open on a sideline route and quarterback Joe Flacco decided to take a shot. The ball was just a little bit in front of Fant, but again he did not dive to gather in the catch and the would-be big play was instead incomplete.
I’d like to see Fant go “all out” to make a catch. He does that near pay dirt when the team is doing work in the red zone, but he needs consistent effort all across the field.
Speed of the Game
The transition from college to the pros is always a difficult one for any player, mostly due to the speed of the game. Players are faster and they are certainly more disciplined. That means they don’t waste time or take false steps while making their way to the ball. Fant, like any other rookie, has to first get used to the increased speed and discipline of the players he’s going up against.
The speed of the NFL is the first thing offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello brought up when talking about the most difficult part of Fant’s transition to the pro game.
“It’s the NFL. It’s just that the game is faster. It’s not him just learning the offense, it’s also him learning the nuances of the things that we know he he’ll excel at, and so that adds to the learning,” Scangarello continued. “He is a quick learner. He’s got a skill set, and he can do just about anything.”
That includes an element of his game that most people overlook.
“I’ll say this, I think that one of the things that was most undervalued about him coming in the draft that we felt very strongly about is I think he is an excellent run blocker. The zone system and his athleticism, I am excited about that. The pads went on, and he is really showing very, very well. We’re excited about that.” Scangarello said.
Fant realized the difference in the NFL early. He is aware of the speed and Fant has been working diligently to respond to that.
“It’s a little bit faster. I feel like the competition is higher also. You go against better players every day on every play, but it’s just bringing your A-game every play. In college, you might have had some plays where you could have got away with certain things where when you’re in the NFL you can’t. You have to be exactly on point on every single thing. Just the learning curve that’s there and I definitely realized that early on and I’m trying to perfect that.” Fant said.
The Broncos are going to be using two-tight-end sets quite often in 2019 and that means Fant will be asked to block from time to time. Fant is known as an “F” or receiving tight end and he’s not seen as a better blocker. Fant is considered to be an effort blocker who does a good job of getting in the way of an opponent but he does not control his man or embarrass a defender with his blocking ability.
In camp during the last few days, Fant has sometimes been tasked with blocking outside linebacker Von Miller. Needless to say, he is failing to block Miller with any sort of consistency.
But going up against Miller is hopefully making Fant better.
“I’m going against the best pass rusher in the league, in my opinion. Watching him every day in practice, nobody can really top what he does, so it’s getting me better every day and I wouldn’t want that any other way. Hopefully, I can give him some competition and try to make each other better.” Fant said.
Nobody should be holding his struggles against Miller against the rookie. There are plenty of seasoned veterans who do not do a good job of keeping Miller away from the quarterback. Fant has been thrown into the fire when it comes to pass protection, but that’s something that could serve him well as the team prepares him for a large role in 2019.
The talent is off the chart with Fant, but the effort needs to be more consistent. Fant needs to finish his reps the proper way and understand the “Broncos Way” when it comes to practice and preparation. The rookie needs to show that he can dive for catches and that he’s willing to put his body on the line in order to make a play – yes, even in practice.
Fant will play in his first preseason game in just a little more than a week. During that time, he should see more players who are fast and disciplined as defenders. This only helps him get better as he prepares for the regular season. We’ll see him learn more as a blocker, taking his natural strength and learning the pro technique for blocking.
The rookie has the potential to be a perennial Pro Bowl player one day in the future. In order to start, Fant first must learn to finish. When he does that, the rest of the league had better watch out.
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