After having a highly encouraging yet inconsistent rookie season, Noah Fant came into 2020 with added competition for targets with the “new look” Denver Broncos. Despite that, he has had a terrific start to this young season. Can he keep up his strong fantasy football production, or is he destined to regress at some point? Let’s take a closer look.
Noah Fant had an up-and-down 2019 season
After using a first-round pick on the highly-touted Fant, he was expected to come in and be a strong playmaker for a team yearning for someone to step up in this young offense. While tight ends typically take a couple of years to adapt to the next level due to their general lack of usage in college, Fant was able to produce almost immediately. Over the first eight games of the 2019 season, Fant had four games of 50+ yards receiving, which included two games over 100 yards.
What makes this even more impressive was he was able to play as well as he did with aging veteran Joe Flacco throwing the football for almost the entire first half of the season. This production didn’t come without some duds as he had no more than 14 yards receiving in those other four games of the first half. This was still encouraging for a Broncos squad that had struggled to draft tight ends with busts such as Jeff Heuerman, Troy Fumagalli, and Jake Butt, to mention some examples over the past few years.
Fant’s production with Drew Lock
Once Drew Lock took over in Week 13 of last season, Fant’s ceiling was lowered, but he saw a steady increase in his floor production and overall consistency. Outside of a one-reception for six yards performance in Week 13, Fant had at least four receptions and 29 yards over the final four games.
While it may not seem like a lot, it’s still very decent production for a rookie at the tight end position. To put it in perspective, Fant’s consistency score from Weeks 1 to 12 last season (when Flacco/Brandon Allen were the starting quarterbacks) was 2.04 while his score from Week 13 through Week 2 of this season was 2.47.
Things were looking up for Fant once Lock stepped in at quarterback despite Lock only throwing for 200+ yards in two of his five games last season. With Courtland Sutton establishing himself as a number one wide receiver in the offense, Fant was settling in as the team’s primary receiving tight end going forward and the potential number two target in this young passing offense.
Even though the Broncos would bring in some new additions to their offense this past offseason, the future was still looking bright for Fant heading into this season.
Impressive production in the start of the 2020 season
In a now loaded 2020 Broncos offense that included first-round pick Jerry Jeudy and second-round pick K.J. Hamler, Fant found himself, once again, fighting for targets. However, with Sutton and Hamler both injured to start the year, Fant took advantage. He would see only five targets but make the most of them as he finished with four receptions, 57 yards (14.3 yards per catch), and a touchdown.
Despite both Hamler and Sutton returning in Week 2, Fant was still able to keep up the pace. He saw six targets and caught five of them for 81 yards (16.2 yards per reception) and a touchdown. The Broncos, unfortunately, dealt with a couple of significant injuries as Sutton would suffer a season-ending injury, and Lock would leave with what is expected to be a shoulder injury that’ll cost him multiple weeks.
Despite Lock being out for the foreseeable future, backup Jeff Driskel came in and put up respectable numbers in just over one half and against a top defense like the Steelers. Driskel would throw for 256 yards and two touchdowns in what was almost a come-from-behind victory.
Driskel looked Fant’s way often as he was tied for third on the team with five targets. Fant’s touchdown reception came from one of Driskel’s targets as well. On a team now forced to feature two rookies in their starting lineup, Fant suddenly finds himself the veteran amongst the pass-catching group. Not only will he be wearing that hat for this offense, but he is also expected to be even more featured as the trusty safety valve for the veteran journeyman Driskel.
Fant’s expected fantasy football outlook moving forward
No matter who is under center for the Broncos, it seems Fant’s role in this offense is secure. But for a team that was already forced to pass the ball a bit considering the losses they’ve sustained on defense, there’s reason to believe that Fant could see even more targets moving forward.
Jeudy is an electric playmaker but made crucial drops in Week 1, which will be something to monitor move forward. Hamler operates as a field-stretcher with his quickness but dealt with his own drop issues in college.
Beyond that, Tim Patrick and DaeSean Hamilton make up steady but uninspiring wide receiver depth. The tight end depth chart features Butt, free-agent addition Nick Vannett, fourth-round draft pick Albert Okwuegbunam, and fullback/H-back Andrew Beck with Fant leading the charge.
Considering the lack of proven pass-catching options outside of Fant and running back Melvin Gordon (five receptions, 22 yards, and one touchdown in two games), Fant has the chance to ascend to the level of Travis Kelce, George Kittle, Mark Andrews, and Zach Ertz in being not only a starter but a crucial part of his team’s offense.
Fant ranks sixth amongst tight ends with his 15.3 yards per reception and also being only one of three tight ends with a touchdown reception in each of the first two games (Kelce, Jonnu Smith). He also ranks as the third-highest scoring tight end in half point-per-reception leagues so far behind Smith and Tyler Higbee.
It’s clear that the Broncos aren’t going to change their offensive gameplan despite the injuries to Lock and Sutton. That means you can expect to see high passing volume as we saw in Week 2 when the Broncos attempted 39 passes. Fant has already shown to be a must-start at tight end in fantasy football, but he has the chance to ascend into the top half of the TE1 bracket for the season and perhaps even beyond.
If you have the opportunity to buy-low on him from fantasy football managers nervous about his rest-of-season outlook with Lock’s injury, make him a priority. He has all of the makings to be one of the next breakout tight ends in fantasy football.
Doug Moore is a fantasy football writer for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter at @DMooreNFL.