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

Midway through Noah Fant’s second season, there are reasons for optimism – and room for improvement – for the Broncos’ tight ending.

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

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

So how is Fant’s performance in 2020 viewed within the organization? Ahead of last Sunday’s Raiders game, Fant gave himself a B-min, while coach Vic Fangio said this week that the tight ending “pretty much lived up” to second-year expectations.

“Obviously, we all wish he had more touches, more yards and more touchdowns – that’s normal,” said Fangio. “Noah has made good progress from year one to year two and I expect him to continue. He has the right mindset, he’s a good worker, he’s proud and he’s a competitor. I see the improvements from him daily. “

Fant is well on track to finish this year with 66 catches for 883 yards, which would be a significant increase in production from 2019. But even the tight ending admits that “I feel like I can offer a lot more.”

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

“I still want to improve and play a bigger part in the attack – and keep blocking (well) – just doing all the things that every down-end has to do,” said Fant.

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

Fant did not practice on Wednesday, was then limited on Thursday and a full participant on Friday.

“If you lose two good receiving tight ends (like Fant and Okwuegbunam), it will affect your passing play,” said Fangio. “We should adapt with staff – maybe we’ll play more four-wide receiver sets when we get into transient situations.”

Callahan misses the training. Cornerback Bryce Callahan missed Friday’s practice due to an illness and was listed as questionable on the latest injury report.

Also added were judge Graham Glasgow (calf) and defensive end DeShawn Williams (ankle), who were both limited on Friday.

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

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