The Broncos arrived at the NFL draft needing a linebacker. They hired a defensive coach in Vic Fangio. A prospect, in Devin Bush, checked all the boxes. Plays fast, big hitter, and worked under Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, Fangio’s boss at Stanford and San Francisco.
Then something weird happened.
The Broncos traded out of 10 with Bush on the board. They had other plans. In the process, the Broncos acquired the 20th and 52nd overall picks and landed a player some are calling the sleeper of the first round. Iowa’s Noah Fant is, well, a fantastic fit for an offense that wants to feature a tight end.
“I thought about teams that I wanted, like Minnesota, but Denver was tops,” said Fant, aware of the history with tight ends like Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe and former Pro Bowler Julius Thomas. “It was emotional. For me, it was like the stars aligned because before the draft, Denver was one of my favorites. That doesn’t happen very often because you can’t control where you go in the draft. For that to happen for me, to be at an organization like this, to be with coaches like this and in a situation like this, it’s something that is very special.”
Fant represents an intriguing prospect. He caught 39 passes for seven touchdowns last season, modest numbers until you understand he was sharing the ball with T.J. Hockenson. It leaves the possibility Fant will be better in pro ball.
“You haven’t seen my best yet,” Fant said. “I am looking forward to getting in here and competing.”
Fant arrived at his press conference decked out in a dark suit, blue bow tie and orange pocket square. He packed orange during the draft trying to help create good vibes for the Broncos. While he looks sharp off the field, he is a walking mismatch on it. Part of that comes from his background. Encouraged by his father Willie, Fant played multiple sports, competing in football, basketball and track. Growing up, Fant figured he would play college basketball as a power forward for the likes of Boise State or South Dakota State.
“Then big-time football offers starting coming in,” Fant said, who, as an Omaha star, received push back for choosing Iowa, or “Tight End U” as he called it, over Nebraska.
He distinguished on the gridiron with his size — 6-foot-5, 241– and speed. John Elway and Fangio became impressed with his ability to get open on vertical routes. And Joe Flacco excels when has good tight ends. He will target Fant. And if this works, Fant would like to provide Broncos’ fans with a glimpse of what George Kittle, his mentor, has done in San Francisco.
“My goal is contribute and help us win games,” Fant said. “Having a Super Bowl quarterback like Joe Flacco is going to be fun.”