The Broncos are going to play their first preseason game this week when they face the Falcons in the Hall of Fame Game on Thursday. We won’t see much from the regular starters for the team, as they have five preseason games this year and don’t want to get anyone hurt in these exhibition contests.
That’s why we’re going to see a lot of backup-caliber players in at least the first two preseason games for the Broncos. Some of these players are not going to make the team or make it in the league. Some of these players are going to be solid pros as reserve players. Some of these players may be stars of the future who are relatively unknown or inexperienced at this time.
One reserve player who will be interesting to watch is rookie tight end Austin Fort. Undrafted out of Wyoming in 2019, Fort has been a solid player on every day of training camp so far.
Could the Broncos have a sleeper in Fort? Let’s take a look.
Fort has not been playing tight end for that long. He was a high-school quarterback in Gillette, Wyo., and went to the University of Wyoming as a quarterback, where he was behind 2018 first-round pick Josh Allen on the depth chart. Fort was asked to change position to tight end, but ended up transferring to Chabot Community College where he could play quarterback.
He did eventually return to the Cowboys as a tight end, where he played in 2017 and 2018. In 10 games across two seasons, Fort played sparingly and caught just 17 passes for 221 yards and four touchdowns.
During his brief time with the Broncos, Fort has shown that he can take the nuance of playing quarterback to the tight end position. It’s one of the first things I asked him about when I talked to Fort one-on-one after practice last week.
“As a former quarterback, you see things from the pocket, the soft spots on the defense and how different passing concepts play out,” Fort said. “I use that to my advantage as a tight end.”
I’ve seen how Fort knows how to find the soft spot in a zone, will square his shoulders to the line of scrimmage and does a good job of coming back to the ball – all things that can make him a quarterback’s best friend.
Fort got on the Broncos radar during the local pro day earlier this year. That is an event held by every NFL team before the draft. Players who played high school or college football in their respective regions are allowed to attend and teams get to take a longer look at players that might have been overlooked in the pre-draft process.
The Broncos hosted 31 players from Colorado and Wyoming schools that day in mid-April and Fort was a player that caught their attention. He enjoyed that debut with the team and recognizes that is where it all started for him.
“That was a cool day, I just felt really comfortable here,” Fort explained. “I liked the feel of it and felt they liked me. That’s where it all started.”
Not only did Fort get an opportunity at the local pro day, but he is now getting a larger opportunity because of injuries in front of him on the depth chart. With Jake Butt (knee) missing most of training camp so far, Fort has been able to take advantage. Add in minor injuries for Troy Fumagalli and Bug Howard during training camp, and you can see how Fort’s chances of making this team are much greater than anyone (perhaps including Fort) could have dreamed during the local pro day earlier this year.
The best thing about watching Fort’s game is that he’s consistent on a daily basis. Dating back to OTAs and minicamp, and now through 10 days of training camp, Fort has put forth great effort and has earned quite a few looks. In fact, Fort is getting work with the third-, second- and first-team offenses, catching passes from all four quarterbacks on the roster.
“You try to get good chemistry with Joe (Flacco) because he’s going to be our guy,” Fort said. “I think I’ve done good things with every single (quarterback) here. I want to keep the chemistry building.”
There has never been a day in training camp that I would classify as a “bad” day for the rookie. Some days are better than others, but the Broncos can rely on Fort to work hard every day and produce on most any pass thrown his way.
While Fort may not be a speed demon who can attack the deep middle seam, his best asset is the consistency he brings to the field. Fort is the type of player who can get open regularly and move the chains. He’s not afraid to run routes over the middle and maintains good focus as a pass-catcher no matter where the passes are coming in from – or who is throwing them.
The Broncos have a knack for finding talent from the ranks of the college free agents available after the draft. They may have found another solid player in Fort.
He knows how to get open and does the little things that other young players may not yet know because of his experience as a quarterback. Fort has worked hard since getting an opportunity to perform for the team at the local pro day and is consistently making plays in training camp.
The Broncos are going to have quite a tight end friendly offense in 2019. Fort may be a reserve player on the depth chart, but he would be a solid player if ever called upon in the regular season.