Fantasy Football: Noah Fant Is a Prime Breakout Candidate in 2020
The Denver Broncos found a gem in tight end Noah Fant, drafting him in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. After a hopeful rookie season and playing with two quarterbacks, Fant delivered a top-16 tight end finish.
In year two, he has higher expectations as the Broncos loaded up the offense around second-year signal-caller, Drew Lock. During the offseason, the Broncos signed Melvin Gordon, and drafted Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler to compliment the top receiving options in Courtland Sutton and Fant.
Fant was the number two option most of last season, and entering their second season together, Lock and Fant are a duo worth having. Fant had five top-15 weekly finishes last season and two as the second-highest scoring tight end (Weeks 9, 14).
If you're not a believer in Fant's ability or ceiling after 16 games, you will be after 2020.
In August 12-team BestBall10 drafts, Fant is being drafted at 124.20 as the 14th tight end off the board. That means he's going in the 10th round of drafts, and as a TE1, that's a great find.
Ahead of Fant are Rob Gronkowski (13th), Austin Hooper (12th), Michael Gesicki (11th), and Jared Cook (10th) to round out those drafted outside the top 10. Fant finished 16th in standard leagues with 71.0 fantasy points overall and 4.4 per game while finishing 16th in full-PPR with 111.0 and 6.9 per game.
At 22 years old, Fant is a riskier option than Cook, Gesicki, or Hooper but could have a stronger season than all four tight ends drafted ahead of him.
Fant's Historic Rookie Season
Fant showed significant potential as a first-round pick out of Iowa, and the sophomore season in the NFL is when we usually see a jump in production from young tight ends. Of the few tight ends with solid rookie seasons, Fant's numbers are similar to Mark Andrews, Zach Ertz's, and George Kittle's in their first year.
|Statistic||George Kittle||Rob Gronkowski||Mark Andrews||Zach Ertz||Noah Fant|
|2nd Year Rec||88||90||64||58||--|
|2nd Year Yds||1377||1327||852||702||--|
|2nd Year TDs||5||17||10||3||--|
Fant quietly had an impressive rookie season for the Broncos, becoming one of five rookie tight ends in NFL history to record at least 40 receptions, 500 receiving yards and average over 14.0 yards per reception in his first season, per Pro Football Focus. Out of all tight ends with at least 25 catches, Fant led them with 8.3 yards after the catch, the fourth-best mark of all tight ends since 2016.
For Denver, he finished second on the team in an array of categories. The former first-round pick trailed only Courtland Sutton in yards (562), targets (66), receiving touchdowns (3) and was third in receptions (40).
Entering season two, Fant has a new offensive coordinator, and it will be to his advantage. Denver hired Pat Shurmer, who's involved tight ends often in his offenses as an offensive coordinator and tight ends coach with the Vikings (2016-17) and then head coach of the Giants (2018-19).
Why Fant Will Be a TE1
Shurmer coached Kyle Rudolph and Evan Engram over the last four years, and in 2016 and 2017, Rudolph played some of his career-best ball, scoring seven and eight touchdowns. When Shurmer was with a healthy Engram, the tight end averaged 8.5 targets per game in 2019. Fant, like Engram, has after-the-catch ability and is athletic enough to stretch the field.
Fant finished second with 14.1 yards per reception, and only five teams recorded more plays of 20 yards or more over the past two seasons than Shurmer's Giants in 2018 and 2019. Fant himself posted four plays of 30 or more yards in 2019 and seven games of 20 or more. Lock only attempted 2.8 deep passes per game -- 14 total over five games -- but Shurmer will undoubtedly try to increase that number and look at ways to get Fant the ball downfield.
In year two, Fant's going to be expected to stretch the field and exceed his 7.9-yard average target distance from his rookie season, per PlayerProfiler. Fant has 4.5-second 40-yard speed, which showed with 300 yards after the catch (7th) last season.
He only had one red zone reception in 16 games, and that's 100 percent going to increase in 2020. Rudolph alone caught 14-of-24 red-zone targets for five touchdowns in 2016 and 14-of-16 in 2017 for seven touchdowns. Engram caught four-of-six red-zone targets for three touchdowns in 2018 and three-of-nine for two touchdowns in 2019, per Pro-Football-Reference.
Fant recorded four 50-yard games in 2019 and had seven games of three receptions or more. If he adds one more reception per game and a score or two throughout the season in the red zone, Shurmer could turn him into a top-10 tight end by the end of the season.
numberFire's model projects Fant to record 51 receptions on 76 targets for 585 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns as the 18th-ranked tight end.
With all of the new weapons, it's easier to see where Fant can fade into a number three or four role in the offense, but he should be more of a safety valve for Lock. Denver's rookies Jeudy and Hamler won't be relied on heavily as first-year players, and when the ground game isn't working, it'll be either Fant or Sutton as Lock's primary targets.
Fant caught 10 receptions on 14 targets (71.4%) for 188 yards and a touchdown over his final five season games, all with Lock. Fant recorded one of his two career 100-yard games with him as the quarterback, and his fantasy finish in Week 14 versus Houston was his highest of the season. Another season together will be nothing but a positive in the growth for both Lock and Fant.
In standard re-draft leagues, Fant has the potential to post more consistent numbers as a TE1, and just like Andrews, Ertz, and Kittle, they've busted onto the scene in year two with younger quarterbacks (Jackson, Wentz, Garoppolo).
If you can get Fant around the 9th or 10th rounds, I would advise doing so, as he's one of my favorite breakout candidates for 2020.