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Broncos Film Room: How Noah Fant can be a game-changer in 2019

Andre Simone Avatar
July 9, 2019

The value of a strong tight comes down to having an extra offensive weapon in the passing game who is also an asset for the run game as a blocker. In layman’s terms, the best tight ends give you multiplicity, and therein lies their value.

That’s not necessarily the case with Denver Broncos 2019 first-round selection Noah Fant, as the Iowa product is just… different.

While Fant might not be a true asset as a run blocker, his value lies in his receiver-like athleticism, a trait that—at 6-foot-4 and 249 pounds—makes him a dangerous mismatch in the passing game.

Having that sort of weapon in new Broncos offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello’s hands is even more valuable.

Scangarello got to see firsthand what type of damage an athletic tight end can do in the scheme he’s expected to replicate in Denver, as another Iowa tight end blew up the NFL in 2018, George Kittle.

“With the success that Kittle had in San Francisco,” John Elway said after selecting Fant 20th overall in the 2019 draft. “With Rich [Scangarello] being out there last year, a speed tight end can be very effective in this offense.”

With Kittle’s 2018 season fresh in everyone’s mind, Scangarello’s and the Broncos who were on the wrong end of No. 85’s 210-yard annihilation, Fant’s appeal is easy to understand.

Which is why we went back to the tape to study both Iowa tight ends, searching for the best ways to utilize Fant in Scangarello’s new scheme. 

Here’s what we found, with a few added notes on Fant’s much-scrutinized blocking ability.

Iowa on the mind

First things first, George Kittle and Noah Fant both went to the same school, they’re similarly sized and comparable special athletes for the position, that’s where the comparisons begin.

Look beyond the surface, and the comps go much further, especially in how the two former Hawkeyes have had success on the field these last few years, with Kittle in the NFL and Fant in the Big Ten.

A common theme throughout studying Scangarello and the 49ers’ offense is how consistent that scheme is at manufacturing easy completions through misdirection and overloading zones. Iowa found similar ways to use Fant in their offense, which should make for an easy transition for the rookie.

Fant and Kittle are both versatile and can be lined up just about anywhere; outside, in the slot, in-line, out the backfield, and especially when put in motion. They can be used everywhere.

Moving them around the formation can be lethal in a scheme that’s well equipped at hunting matchups and getting them in space.

When you give two freaky speedsters a head of steam, using motion, they become even scarier to try and stop.

Where Denver’s new attack will come into play is in how Kittle was constantly being hidden, allowing him to get open with ease and giving him opportunities to create extra yards in space.

Remember this one in Kittle’s obliteration of the Broncos? Watch him here to the left of the left tackle, quietly hidden at the line before exploding past Todd Davis up the middle and then taking off for a back-breaking score.

Here’s another perfect example in the red zone, with Kittle lined up next to the left tackle and completely left alone on a block and release.

Here’s Kittle lined up to the right of the right tackle with everyone stacked on the line.

Kittle again looks like he’s blocking, only to have a screen set up for him, exactly what we mean by the type of easy completions this offense is designed for. Having a dangerous YAC weapon in Fant or Kittle can turn those easy completions into big gains.

Here’s another clever Niners play, with their second tight end Garrett Celek put in motion toward the strong side, shifting the defense that way, which then with play-action is where all of the defensive attention goes to. This opens up the entire left side of the field where Kittle, who was quietly lined up in-line is wide open on a crosser.

Whether it’s laterally on crossing routes or vertically on wheel routes, go routes and posts, having tight ends like this forces opposing defenses to cover every blade of grass on the field or risk a 249-pound freak running wild in the secondary.

The Niners did an amazing job of getting Kittle open with disguises that hid their TE, or off-balance formations on play-action bootlegs that allowed the former Hawkeye to go against the grain right into open space. San Francisco also got Kittle open with mesh concepts or receivers running deep to clear out defenders over the middle, with Kittle finding openings across the field. All these are staples of what should be the Broncos new offense where Fant should fit in seamlessly.

Fant’s ability to stretch the field vertically is his most appealing trait of all, an area in which he promises to be even better than Kittle.

Outside, in-line, out the slot, Fant can take the top off a defense, or maybe, more importantly, he can stretch the seam which opens up everything for this passing attack.

Here’s a basic example below of how Fant’s speed up the seam could then open space for others to take advantage of up the middle and clearing out defenders, similarly to what 49ers receivers did for Kittle.

And he’s always got the run after the catch ability.

That type of vertical separation and playmaking is why Fant is different. He’s not a typical in-line tight end and is truly more like another jumbo-sized receiver.

When stretching the seam vertically, Kittle actually did much more of his damage on in-cutting routes, finding holes in coverage over the middle rather than stretching the seam. Fant’s speed to stretch the seam will be incredibly valuable, but he’ll have to develop as a route runner in finding soft spots in coverage to truly become a Kittle-like threat.

Another area where Fant could improve is in making linebackers miserable in one-on-one coverage with quick double moves. Kittle’s quickness really shows in these situations and is pretty damn special.

As vicious as that double move above is against the Raiders, this little stutter step to beat Derwin James inside and convert third down might be even more impressive. Being a reliable third-down weapon who can get open underneath is going to definitely be part of Fant’s development early on, as he’s currently not at the level Kittle is.

Fant has shown very quick feet for his size, allowing him to easily get open on quick hitters and comeback routes. That combination of size and speed, which forces defenses to respect him deep, make him devastating to cover against off coverage.

Fant has all the skills to be the type of weapon over the middle that Kittle is with some refinement in his routes and a bit more savvy in finding openings in coverages.

Another area in which the two are similar is in how dangerous they are getting open to the flats, where they can regularly turn short gains into big plays.


One of the few differences between the two tight ends is in the red zone, where Kittle only scored two red-zone touchdowns last season and five total. Fant, despite splitting time and touches with eighth-overall pick T.J. Hockenson, had 18 in his final two seasons at Iowa. His otherworldly leaping ability should allow him to outperform Kittle’s touchdown figures quickly, especially if Scangarello can find ways to get him in space and hunt one-on-one matchups in the red area.

Fant was often used as a decoy at Iowa, which should still be the case at times in Denver, especially if he can be productive early in his rookie season. However, in Scangarello’s Niners-style scheme, he should be targeted more than simply utilized as a decoy, giving him easy routes to get open despite still needing to refine his route running and allow him to get in space to produce YAC.

Blocking misconception

Following Fant’s selection, there’s been a bit of debate regarding his blocking ability.

At the start of the season in 2018, Fant struggled against lesser competition but stepped it up once Big Ten play began. That oddity of struggling and getting beat for tackles for a loss against North Texas but then holding his own against NFL-level talents at Wisconsin, definitely makes his strengths as a blocker tougher to gage, though the improvements throughout the season are encouraging.

Denver’s first-round pick is powerful at the point of attack and can create fairly consistent push, especially if used out the backfield or when put in motion with a head of steam.

His biggest issue is holding blocks and improving his hands to keep defenders locked up. He needs to be more physical at the line of scrimmage and can struggle with keeping defenders from penetrating off his inside shoulder.

Part of Fant’s blocking ability being so hard to assess stems from how he was used at Iowa, where he was often a decoy even on running plays, running routes to clear out space instead of blocking, essentially used as a receiver even on run plays.

If you think of Fant as more of a hybrid receiver-tight end, as his athleticism says he is, then his blocking ability is much better than that of a conventional wideout, with plenty of skill to block in space, where he can bully defensive backs and handle undersized athletic linebackers.

With his route running and becoming more consistent with his hands on high-level-of-difficulty grabs, Fant’s blocking is one of his biggest areas of needed improvement. He’s far from a lost cause but certainly needs to put in work before he can be a reliable in-line player.

With Kittle as his mold and a scheme that should allow him to produce out the gate, there’s a lot to be intrigued by with Noah Fant. Now the rookie just needs to go out and make plays to truly unlock all the possibilities in Denver’s new offense.


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