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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Noah Fant has been the most productive receiving tight end in the NFL in half of the season thus far. At the same time, the former first-round pick has also been the least-productive receiving tight end for the other half of the first two weeks of the season.
In the first half against the Titans in Week 1, the former first-round pick was unstoppable as he caught all five passes thrown his way for 81 yards and a touchdown. In the second half, however, he didn’t have a single catch and was targeted only once.
“I think we just kind of went in different directions on the offensive side,” Fant said immediately after the Broncos’ 16-14 loss to the Titans, trying to explain the drastic differences in the two halves. “Tried to take advantage of some other matchups which was a good idea. I think it was kind of one of those things. Sometimes you don’t get the ball on time, but I try to take advantage of every opportunity I’m given. I’m sure we’ll get it figured out and keep pressing forward from there.”
Yet in Week 2, it was the same story just flipped. The tight-end mismatch didn’t have a single target in the first half against the Steelers, despite being a main weapon for the Broncos’ offense. In the second half, however, he hauled in four of his five targets for 57 yards, a touchdown and a two-point conversion.
After an incredible impressive start to the season, the 6-foot-4, 249-pound tight end went 60 full minutes of football without having a catch on only one target.
“I would like to say he’s played productive in two of the games, you know,” Pat Shurmur said on Thursday, when asked what the difference has been between Fant’s incredibly productive halves and the unproductive halves. “He’s got what, nine or ten catches and he’s got in the end zone twice.”
There’s no question about it. At the end of the both games, Fant’s productivity was unquestionably impressive. In fact, his 138 receiving yards through two games is the fifth-most in the league for a tight end.
However, if he were to have the type of halves he did in Week 1 and Week 2 in every single half of both games, his projected 276 receiving yards would lead all tight ends in the league by 124 yards. In fact, he would lead the entire league in receiving yards regardless of position. That’s just how productive he’s been in the two halves he’s had a catch.
“In those other halves, we’re trying to throw it around,” Shurmur said, explaining the differences. “Every once in a while, they’ll take something away or try and do something else.”
Of course Fant isn’t going to be the Broncos’ entire passing attack. But despite his incredible production when thrown the ball, he averages just the fourth-most targets per game (5.5) on the team.
“It kind of seems a little finite that it’s by halves,” Shurmur said, defending his usage of the talented tight end. “We do try to throw him the ball. It’s not that segmented where you go away from him.”
“I do think that if the guys are doing their stuff and he’s really running good routes — a couple of times there were times when he was wide open that we could have thrown him the ball and then there’s a couple other times when we did try to throw it to him where he was covered and it should have gone underneath him,” Shurmur continued. “It’s kind of all connected. I think right now with two games, it’s a little small sample size to start surmising that type of stuff.”
Fant’s 138 receiving yards and nine catches both rank as the fifth-most by a tight end in the NFL. What makes that even more impressive is he’s been a top five receiving tight end while only getting the 12th-most targets (11).
Las Vegas’ Darren Waller leads the league with 18 receptions by a tight end, but on 24 targets — over double the number of opportunities Fant’s hand. Despite having 13 less targets, Fant only has 12 fewer receiving yards than Waller and only trails Mike Gesicki, who has the most receiving yards by a tight end, by 22.
Denver’s incredibly athletic tight end averages 15.3 yards per reception over the first two games, which is tied for the second best in the NFL.
“Noah has had some really good plays for us in the first two games,” Vic Fangio said on Wednesday. “It’s kind of what we said in alluding to Tampa. There’s a lot of good guys to throw it to. Sometimes, one guy is going to get seven, eight or nine catches, and Noah has made some big plays which is important. We’re very comfortable with throwing to him a lot if that’s the best way to win.”
Through two weeks, the Broncos have been very comfortable throwing Fant’s way a lot. But only one half at a time.
“I’m really, really — and we’re really, really enjoying working with him,” Shurmur stated on Thursday. “Every day, even in practice — really every practice and game you see him get a little bit better, a little bit better, a little bit faster. He’s got a bright future.”
There’s no question Noah Fant’s future is bright. In fact, his present is bright. He’s proven over the first two games, if he’s given the opportunity, he’ll produce with the best tight ends in the league.