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Is Noah Fant the next Julius Thomas? He has his sights set elsewhere

Zac Stevens Avatar
April 27, 2019

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Julius Thomas was one of the most gifted receiving threats Peyton Manning every played with.

At 6-foot-5, 246 pounds, the former hooper from Portland St. flew through the 40-yard dash with a time of 4.68, put up 16 reps on the bench and had the best vertical jump for a tight end in 2011 at 35.5 inches.

Those were all cute compared to the Broncos’ first-round pick, Noah Fant, who put up hard-to-believe numbers at the combine.

Fant’s 4.5 40-yard dash, 20 bench press reps and 39.5 vertical jump blew J.T.’s numbers out of the water at his similar 6-foot-4, 249-pound stature.

“Guys like Shannon Sharpe and Julius Thomas that came through this program and have done great things is something very special for me to be apart of and hopefully I can live up to the same type of thing that they did,” Fant said on Friday afternoon at his introductory press conference, setting Hall-of-Fame aspirations with the shoutout to Sharpe.

Coming out of Iowa as a deadly receiving threat, many in the Mile High City hope Fant can be the next Orange Julius.

There’s just one problem with that comparison.

“I love blocking,” Fant said loud and proud with his shoulders back as he stood behind the Broncos’ podium.

T.J. Hockenson, Fant’s tight end sidekick at Iowa and No. 8 pick in the draft, was viewed as the top well-rounded tight end in the draft because of his ferocious blocking. Because of Hockenson’s all-around success, Fant’s prospect naturally got molded into a receiver in a tight end’s body.

That’s not how he views things.

“I would consider myself a tight end through-and-through,” Fant said, trying to shift his public perspective. “I love blocking. I love catching touchdowns. I love doing whatever is asked of me. I definitely would consider myself a tight end.”

In fact, Fant had his heart set on being a true tight end in high school, when he chose to go to Iowa because it was “Tight End U.”

“I decided on Iowa for this reason right now. I wanted to be in the NFL as a tight end,” he said, straying from other great receiving tights such as Jimmy Graham and Thomas, who preferred to be viewed as big receivers.

“Iowa does a great job of making well-rounded tight ends that are ready for the NFL. The whole plan worked out and I was very excited to go to Iowa. [Denver] was definitely the best place for me.”

Of course, just because he wants to be viewed as an all-around tight end doesn’t mean he is one, especially making the jump to the NFL.

With all the excitement John Elway has for his newest offensive weapon, he wasn’t shy pointing to Fant needing to “continue to do better in the running game.”

But just like all things in life, the desire must be there in order for the results to follow.

“There are multiple parts of the game that I have to improve on—blocking, running routes, multiple different things as far as a blocker,” Fant said, owning up to his weaknesses. “I’m looking forward to putting the work in. Obviously going against guys in practice like Bradley Chubb, like Von Miller are going to get me a lot better, too.”

It’s not as if Fant is a stranger to blocking, even though he wasn’t asked to do it often in college.

After starting his football career as a running back at the pee-wee level, Fant was converted to a left tackle, where blocking clearly was non-negotiable, before finding his natural position as a tight end. After watching his film, Vic Fangio could see his passion and deemed him a “competitive blocker.”

“We don’t feel that he’s just a ‘move’ tight end or an off-the-ball tight end. He can play on the line of scrimmage also,” Fangio said, setting the expectation level for his first-round pick. “That was important to us also.”

Eighteen receiving touchdowns and over 1,000 receiving yards over the last two years makes it easy to paint the picture of Fant being the next great big receiver dressed up as a tight end.

But that’s not the plan.


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