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Criticism of Broncos tight end Noah Fant is way off base

(Photo by Andy Lyons / Getty Images)

When the Broncos selected Noah Fant in the first round of April’s NFL Draft, the scouting reports about the tight end out of Iowa were all pretty consistent. He has a big frame (6-foot-4, 250 pounds), which will make him a giant target, especially in the red zone. And he has great speed (4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the scouting combine), which will allow him to get vertical in the passing game and stretch the field for the offense.

Through the first nine practices of training camp, that’s exactly what has been on display. Whether Fant is running with the ones, twos or threes, he’s consistently demonstrating those skills.

In red-zone drills, Fant gets open, provides a big target for whichever quarterback is throwing the ball and is able to use his body to keep defenders away from the football. He’s been a bit of a touchdown machine in those situations.

And in 7-on-7 or team sessions, Fant has been able to beat defenders down the field consistently. Three days in a row, he worked a wheel route to the outside and was open deep down the sideline, bringing something to the passing attack that the other tight ends on the roster simply can’t.

All that said, the reports from training camp are leaning toward the negative side of things when it comes to the Broncos rookie. For the most part, the media gathered at the UCHealth Training Center is busy shooting holes in Fant’s game.

First, they were upset that Emmanuel Sanders and Courtland Sutton had to tell the tight end to “finish” plays. Two days in a row, a veteran on Denver’s roster was reminding the rookie that things don’t end when he catches the ball or is “tackled” by a defender; instead, he needed to take the ball and sprint toward the end zone after every grab.

Then, they were aghast that Fant would suggest in an interview that he doesn’t feel any pressure as a first-round pick. This type of laissez-faire attitude was either a sign of arrogance or disinterest, showing that the tight end believed he was too good to fail or didn’t really care if he did. Either way, that approach wasn’t going to fly.

And finally, there were reports that the rookie was out of shape. He had been spotted taking a knee in between drills, asking for more water than other players at his position and sometimes looking a little lethargic during practice. On or off the record, no one within the Broncos suggested this was true, but the body-language experts were reading the signs.

All of it is poppycock.

Should Fant do a better job of finishing plays? Perhaps. But is it a big deal that he’s not? Nope. It’s not uncommon for veterans to remind rookies about the new way of doing things, letting them know how things are done in the pros versus in college. So it wasn’t shocking that Sanders and Sutton were chirping at the newbie, telling him it was time to break whatever practice habits he had developed as a Hawkeye.

Ever since, Fant has done a great job of finishing plays. He’s taken their advice and applied it, which is all anyone can ask of any player.

Did the rookie set him up for criticism by saying he didn’t feel any pressure on the eve of his first training camp? Not if his entire quote is taken into account.

“I don’t really feel pressure,” Fant said in an article posted by 9News. “I feel like my expectations for myself are pretty high. I feel like when my expectations for myself exceed everyone else’s, I don’t really feel pressure from everyone else. But that’s back by my work ethic and what I do out here every day and pushing myself.”

What’s wrong with those comments? He demands more of himself than outsiders, so he doesn’t feel pressure to live up to their standards; he’s already trying to live up to his own.

What was Fant supposed to say? That he’s trembling in fear because people expect a lot out of him as a first-round pick? That would’ve made people feel better about the first-year player?

Fant’s response was dead on. Any other interpretation is simply trying to make something out of nothing.

Which leads to the notion that the rookie is out of shape. Thus far in practice, no one has seen him tap out of a rep; in fact, he’s on the field all the time, taking snaps with seemingly every group at one point or another. In addition, there’s been no indication from Vic Fangio or anyone else that Fant’s conditioning has been a problem; given that the Broncos head coach is pretty blunt, it seems like he would’ve mentioned it if it was bothering him.

It’s really nitpicking to get worked up about a player taking a knee or drinking water during a practice in 95-degree heat. Everyone in attendance is sweltering, so it stands to reason that a player seeing action with the ones, twos or threes might be a little gassed and/or parched.

To suggest that Fant is out of shape is a bit unfair. Is he in tip-top condition? Maybe. Maybe not. But until he starts missing reps because he’s too winded to continue, it’s probably best to give the rookie the benefit of the doubt.

Thus far in camp, Fant has been everything he was billed to be. While he has work to do in order to become a great tight end in the league, that was certainly expected; no one ever suggested that he was a finished product.

But in fact, he’s actually been better than advertised. Not only does he possess the skills that were touted on draft night, but he’s also a heckuva lot better blocker than anyone anticipated. Offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello went out of his way to tell the media that fact early last week.

So take the reports from Dove Valley with a grain of salt. Noah Fant is doing just fine, thank you. Any reports to the contrary are highly questionable.

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