Noah’s arc, the Broncos believe, is very high.
Forgive me if you’ve heard this one before:
The Broncos drafted a tight end from the Big Ten Conference.
In 2015 the Broncos picked Ohio State tight end Jeff Heuerman in the third round. In 2017 the Broncos picked Michigan tight end Jake Butt in the fifth round. In 2018 the Broncos chose Wisconsin tight end Troy Fumagalli in the fifth round.
In 2019 the Broncos picked Iowa tight end Noah Fant in the first round.
Who’s next in 2020? A Nebraska tight end?
The last time the Broncos selected a tight end in the first round – fifth overall – was in 1972. Riley Odoms, who belongs in the Ring of Fame, became one of the three greatest to play the position in Denver.
Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe was No 1. He was drafted in the seventh round in 1990 ... as a wide receiver.
The Broncos, especially John Elway, are hoping that Fant will be in a class with Sharpe, Odoms and Julius Thomas, a converted basketball player who became a Pro Bowler. The Broncos are hoping that Fant – unlike Heuerman, Butt and Fumagali – can get on the field and stay on it.
The statistics of the three previous Big Ten tight ends are dismaying, depressing and disturbing.
They have combined for a not-so-grand total of 13 starts – 10 by Heuerman, 3 by Butt and 0 by Fumagali, who hasn’t played a play. They have combined for five injuries. They have combined for 649 yards and only four touchdowns, all by Heuerman. They have combined to play zero games in their rookie seasons. They have combined to be rather worthless.
Good luck, Noah. Pray for no rain.
The Broncos love Fant, who most observers considered the 1B tight end the past year with the Hawkeyes. T.J. Hockenson was No. 1A.
Elway went Plan 1B.
He’s going to keep drafting tight ends from the same conference until he gets it right, or it gets him.
On Tuesday, Elway called his pre-draft press conference irrelevant. Yet, he did address a subject that should have identified his intentions. When asked what Big Ten schools do to produce tight ends that are NFL ready, John replied: “I don’t know. Good point. I’m not sure. They do a good job of getting the the tight ends, especially Iowa this year. They have a couple of good ones coming out.”
Hockenson was a redshirt junior last season. Fant was junior who hadn’t worn a redshirt. Two tight ends from the same school in the first round. Amazing. Never happened before.
In retrospect, Elway’s words were prophetic, as I learned from very informed sources.
On Thursday during the day I tweeted that the Broncos would take Michigan inside linebacker Devin Bush 10th overall, or they would trade down. I then wrote that if they did trade down, “look out” for the Broncos to draft Fant. I received a ton of social media flack.
Because of some goofy and unusual picks, Bush was available at 10. Hockenson was gone to the Lions just prior to the Broncos’ spot.
However, the Broncos pulled off the first trade of the event held outdoors in a wet and wild Nashville before 150,000 fanatics.
Bush seemed like a slam dunk after LSU’s Devin White was chosen fifth in the opening round. But the Broncos passed on a position of need for the team and for Vic Fangio, the linebacker guru/godfather.
The Broncos sent the 10th pick to the Steelers in a Lawrence Welk deal – a one and a two and three (No. 20, No. 52 and a ? in the 2020 draft). Based on the NFL draft value chart, the Broncos ended up with the advantage. Certainly that evaluation will be determined by the futures of Bush and Fant.
So, the starters at inside linebacker at the moment are veteran Todd Davis and Josey Jewell, a fourth-round selection a year ago.
Obviously, the Broncos will choose one or two on Friday and Saturday in the remaining rounds. Maybe they’ll grab an inside backer in the second round.
The 6-foot-5, 249-pound Fant and Hockenson, who is 6-5 and 250, will be compared their entire pro careers. Fant, who was a team captain, is more the receiver type, who can stretch the field. He had 19 touchdowns and 78 receptions in three seasons. The Broncos are thinking George Kittle, who treated them like a borrowed donkey last season. He’ll have to develop his blocking ability. Hockenson is a Rob Gronkowski-style blocker and a control receiver. In only two seasons he caught 73 passes and nine touchdowns.
In their new offense, the Broncos will rely on a tight end considerably more than in the previous stymied system. Joe Flacco is a tight end enthusiast.
Did the Broncos draft another garden-variety Big Ten conference tight end?
Or an archangel?