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Assessing Noah Fant’s second season as Broncos tight end faces high expectations from fanbase, franchise

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Halfway through Noah Fant’s sec­ond sea­son, there’s rea­sons for opti­mism — and room for improve­ment — for the Bron­cos’ tight end.

After being select­ed No. 20 over­all last year, Fant post­ed 40 catch­es for 562 yards and three touch­downs, the most recep­tions and receiv­ing yards by a first-year tight end in fran­chise his­to­ry.

This year, while bat­tling injuries to his ankle and now his ribs, Fant has 35 catch­es for 367 yards in eight games. He has two touch­downs, but no scores since Week 2, and ranks fourth in receiv­ing yards per among qual­i­fy­ing tight ends at 45.9. That’s just behind the league’s pre­mier trio at the posi­tion: Kansas City’s Travis Kelce, San Francisco’s George Kit­tle and Las Vegas’ Dar­ren Waller.

So how has Fant’s 2020 per­for­mance been viewed with­in the orga­ni­za­tion? Pri­or to last Sunday’s Raiders’ game, Fant gave him­self a B‑minus, while coach Vic Fan­gio said this week that the tight end has “pret­ty much met” sec­ond-year expec­ta­tions.

“Obvi­ous­ly all of us would like him to have more touch­es, more yards, more touch­downs — that’s just nor­mal,” Fan­gio said. “Noah’s made good strides from year one to year two and I expect him to con­tin­ue that. He’s got the right mind­set, he’s a good work­er, he’s pride­ful and he’s a com­peti­tor. I see the improve­ments dai­ly from him.”

Fant’s on pace to fin­ish with 66 catch­es for 883 yards this year, which would be a sig­nif­i­cant uptick in pro­duc­tion from 2019. But even the tight end admits that “I feel like I can offer a lot more.”

That includes haul­ing in more of the pass­es that come his way (he’s caught two-thirds of his 53 tar­gets) as well as being a big­ger force in the red zone.

“I still want to keep improv­ing and keep play­ing a big­ger role in the offense — and keep block­ing (well) — just doing all those things that an every-down tight end needs to do,” Fant said.

But Fant hasn’t had a big game since Week 1 against the Titans (5 catch­es, 81 yards), and he’s still after his first 100-yard game of the sea­son after post­ing two last year. Con­sid­er­ing the Bron­cos don’t have any oth­er big-play options at the posi­tion — No. 2 tight end Nick Van­nett is more of a block­er, while Albert Okwueg­bunam, Jake Butt and Andrew Beck are all on injured reserve — a few break­out games down the stretch is a real­is­tic pos­si­bil­i­ty. How­ev­er, Fant was held to three catch­es for 18 yards against the Raiders last Sun­day, and also had a hold­ing penal­ty that nul­li­fied a touch­down run late in the first half.

Fant didn’t prac­tice Wednes­day, then was lim­it­ed Thurs­day and a full par­tic­i­pant on Fri­day.

“When you lose two good receiv­ing tight ends (like Fant and Okwueg­bunam) it has an effect on your pass­ing game,” Fan­gio said. “We’d have to adjust with per­son­nel — maybe play more four-wide receiv­er sets when we get in pass­ing sit­u­a­tions.”

Calla­han miss­es prac­tice. Cor­ner­back Bryce Calla­han missed Friday’s prac­tice because of an ill­ness and was list­ed as ques­tion­able on the final injury report.

Also added were right guard Gra­ham Glas­gow (calf) and defen­sive end DeShawn Williams (ankle), both of whom were lim­it­ed on Fri­day.

Fant, Calla­han, Glas­gow, Williams, quar­ter­back Drew Lock (ribs) and right tack­le Jake Rodgers (shoul­der) are list­ed as ques­tion­able.

Right tack­le Demar Dot­son (hand/groin) prac­ticed ful­ly again and is expect­ed to start.

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