After a solid rookie season, Noah Fant is looking for a big sophomore campaign, and I’m confident he’s paired up with the offensive coach who can get him there. On this week’s episode of Cover 2 Broncos, Joe Rowles and I talked about how Shurmur will likely use the young tight end, as well as where Fant can improve the most.
Like this PA screen to Engram from Shurmur here. When healthy last year, Engram averaged 8.5 targets a game.— Jeffrey Essary (@JeffreyEssary) February 6, 2020
Noah Fant better start stretching.#BroncosCountry pic.twitter.com/3UyfNwZce3
I said on the podcast, and back when Pat Shurmur was hired, that outside of Drew Lock no one benefits more from the move than tight end Noah Fant.
Fant’s athletic ability and after the catch prowess will be utilized heavily in Pat Shurmur’s attack, much like he utilized Evan Engram. Screens and the quick passing game that get Fant out in space will be go-to moves.
Shurmur’s creativity in getting his pass catchers out in space is a big plus that he brings to the offense, and is the perfect pairing for a tight end who saw most of his production come after the catch.
Fant was #3 in the entire NFL last year in YAC per reception, averaging 8.5 yards after every catch. He averaged 14 yards per catch, so nearly 60% of his total yards came after the catch last season.
When you look at the tape of how Shurmur used Evan Engram, it’s clear that Fant will be a great fit in that F, or move tight end, role.
However, if the second year player really wants to take the next big step as a player next season, the biggest area he must improve is in the red zone, and in contested catch situations.
Fant’s ball skills were a bit of a question mark coming out of Iowa, and that has followed him into the pros. When you watch him on film, it’s not even necessarily straight drops like we saw Courtland Sutton struggle with early on, but it’s more physicality at the catch point and inability to locate and secure the ball in traffic.
For a guy with Fant’s size, you want to be able to utilize him as a red zone weapon, and take advantage of defenses with him as a mismatch, but we saw Denver struggle with that last year.
For most tight ends, and this holds true for former Shurmur tight ends Engram and Kyle Rudolph, the majority of their touchdown production, and key catches come inside the red zone.
In 2017, his last year with Shurmur, Rudolph scored eight touchdowns, seven of them inside the red zone. In the last two seasons in New York, Evan Engram scored all six of his touchdowns inside the red zone.
By contrast, Noah Fant scored only one of his touchdowns in the red zone, and had a league worst 11% catch rate when targeted in the red zone. Fant was targeted nine times in the red area, and secured only one catch, going 0 for 6 within the 10-yard line. Most tight ends averaged in the 50% range for catch rate in the red zone, for comparison.
Looking at those numbers, it’s not hard to see why Denver’s offense ranked 28th in the NFL in scoring touchdowns down there. Now this all doesn’t rest on Fant’s shoulders, as the quality of his targets were a bit sketchy at times, but it highlights a major growth area for the young tight end.
If Den is going to take the next step as an offense this upcoming season, Noah Fant really needs to improve on attacking the ball in the RZ— Jeffrey Essary (@JeffreyEssary) February 18, 2020
Having a mismatch like Fant is a huge weapon for the offense down at the goal line, but he's gotta be able to win
PS: Lock's throw was pic.twitter.com/Apt7XBr6gK
If the Broncos offense is going to take the next step next year, particularly in the red zone, Noah Fant needs to step up big time here.
If he can do that, the sky is the limit for him under Pat Shurmur. If he can’t, I still believe he’ll have a strong impact between the 20s, but must develop that additional part of his game to be the star Denver drafted him to be.