Over the past 15 years, rookie tight ends have generally failed to produce. Only Evan Engram (2017) and John Carlson (2008) have recorded over 600 yards in their rookie season. Noah Fant was no different from the majority of rookie TEs, coming in at 572 yards across 16 games. While these numbers, on the whole, may look disappointing, let me put Noah Fant's rookie season into fantasy numbers.
Fant came in at TE16, which may sound average, but it was the 5th best fantasy season by a rookie TE since 2009. He was also the victim of poor QB play for the first 11 games in 2019, with both Joe Flacco and Brandon Allen starting at QB. It wasn't until Week 13 that Drew Lock took over. Using FTN's split tool, we can see the difference between Fant's first 11 games and his last 5 of the 2019 season.
Everybody was naturally excited to see how the 2019 2nd round pick would help Noah Fant and make him a consistent fantasy player. However, this never materialized. Fant averaged 2.8 targets a game after Drew Lock was the starting QB, more worrying was the lack of red zone targets (0.6 per game)
Even with Lock at the helm Noah Fant was a very boom or bust TE in 2019. He only had five games over 5.0 PPR points and a staggering 10 games under 3.0 PPR points. This is obviously not a great start to his career but historically expected.
With not much to shout about in his rookie season, let's take a look at Fant's combine and the reasons for the Broncos using 20th overall pick of the 2019 NFL draft.
Using FFAstronauts very own combine score, you can see that Fant was the best TE not only in the 2019 combine but since 2003. Focussing on the 2019 combine, he had the best 'height-adjusted speed', 8th best shuttle time, and the best three-cone time. If it wasn't already known from his college seasons, it was confirmed Noah Fant was an elite athlete.
During the 2020 offseason, Denver were incredibly busy.
Drafted Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler and Albert Okweugbunam
Signed Graham Glassgow, Melvin Gordon
They added Pat Shurmur as OC
The Broncos already had Courtland Sutton, so adding 1st and 2nd round WRs, for the most part, will hurt Noah Fant. Focussing solely on targets, Fant should see an uptick in his measly 2.8 targets per game and 0.6 RZ targets per game (with Drew Lock under center). However, this number is likely to be capped with so many other offensive weapons added, and the draft capital used to add Jeudy and Hamer. It's not all negative for Noah Fant. Yes, targets may be harder to come by, but there can also be an argument that there should be more space for him, as defenders focus on Sutton, Jeudy, and Hamler.
Albert O was Drew Lock's TE at Missouri, with the TE grabbing 17 TDs in 2 seasons. There's undeniable chemistry there between the two, and this will only further hinder Noah Fant. Both Fant and Okweugbunam are incredibly athletic, so it will be interesting to see how Pat Shurmur will use both guys, but due to his draft capital, I would say Fant has a definite advantage.
Pat Shurmur generally runs an offense that doesn't favor TEs as much as it does WRs, playing many 3WR sets. But, Shurmur has coached successful TE seasons. We can assume Fant has a similar usage to what Evan Engram had with the New York Giants.
According to PFF, Denver Broncos have the 12th hardest strength of schedule for a TE, with weeks 14-16 (usual championship weeks) ranking at 12th easiest.
Current FF Astronaut projections have Fant coming in at TE12.
This is obviously a major upturn from his rookie stats and will depend on remaining injury-free and Drew Lock being consistent.
His current ADP is around TE13. In redraft/best ball leagues this is around on point, as our projections have him coming in at TE12
Regardless of the situation, QB play, Denver drafting WRs early in the draft, you cannot deny Fant's freak athletic ability, and this makes him a definite buy-low and hold in dynasty leagues. I think there are more value plays while drafting in redraft leagues (Blake Jarwin, Jonnu Smith) if you can buy low on him, I would pull the trigger.
We haven't seen the best of Noah Fant, and I can only hope Pat Shurmur, Drew Lock, and the Denver Broncos help him along his way.
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