Tight end Noah Fant didn’t need to be in Denver long to understand the expectations awaiting him as the Broncos’ first-round pick.
“I’m starting to get a real good idea, coming in here, football is very important here,” Fant said. “I hadn’t been to Denver very many times before this, but I can tell just from the city, you know, how touted the team is … right when I got off the plane here, people were waiting around the baggage claim for pictures and things like that. Obviously that’s pretty special.”
Fant, selected by the Broncos with the 20th pick of the draft Thursday night, has already carved out a little slice of franchise history. He is the first tight end selected by the team in the first round since Riley Odoms at No. 5 in 1972, which was 25 years before Fant was born.
Fant arrives to a team starved for impact at the position. The Broncos haven’t had a tight end finish a season with more than 31 catches since 2015 when Owen Daniels had 46 receptions and three touchdowns. A Broncos tight end hasn’t been selected to the Pro Bowl since Julius Thomas in 2014.
It certainly hasn’t been for a lack of trying. The Broncos had used three draft picks in the past four drafts combined on tight ends only to see all three — Jeff Heuerman, Jake Butt and Troy Fumagalli — each miss at least one season with injuries. Butt has missed all but three games in his first two seasons combined.
Broncos president of football operations/general manager John Elway made it clear Fant, who finished his career at Iowa with 19 touchdown catches, 18 of those over the last two seasons, brings immediate impact.
“We feel good about the other tight ends we have with Heuerman, Butt and Fumagalli coming back and doing well,” Elway said. “We just felt that adding Noah to that group — obviously we’ve have some health issues in that position — we just thought that what he brings to us in that situation, he can play three downs for us. Ultimately, you know he really can run. To have a guy that big and that size and really stretch the field.”
At 6-foot-4⅛ and 249 pounds with 4.50 speed in the 40-yard dash at the scouting combine — faster than 17 wide receivers who ran in Indianapolis — Fant fits the Broncos’ offense. Offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello, who was the quarterbacks coach for the San Francisco 49ers before joining Vic Fangio’s staff, has said he wants impact from the position.
Niners tight end George Kittle, also out of Iowa, was selected to the Pro Bowl after finishing with 88 receptions, 1,377 yards receiving and 5 touchdowns last season. Those totals included seven receptions for 210 yards and a touchdown last Dec. 9.
Fant said he doesn’t want to be considered a receiving-only tight end and has spoken to Kittle in the pre-draft process.
“I would consider myself a tight end through and through,” Fant said. “I love blocking, I love catching touchdowns and I love doing whatever is asked of me.”