Noah Fant is the next Kyle Pitts. Wait, that’s not how this works, right? Kyle Pitts hasn’t even played a snap in the NFL. Why would I draft Noah Fant when I can draft Kyle Pitts and gain the accolades of my friends and family and fellow fantasy footballers? Well, invisible internet friend, let me rifle off this list for you: Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, Noah Fant. What, you ask, is that list? It’s the top 3 tight ends sorted by yards after catch from 2020. Are you interested now?
Drafting a top tight end is often correlated to fantasy success because the elite tight ends score so much more than the rest of the tight end field. Consider the point totals from last year: Travis Kelce — 312; Darren Waller — 278; Logan Thomas — 176; Robert Tonyan — 176. Yeesh. But! What if you are able to hunt down the next Logan Thomas or Robert Tonyan as they ascend their way to be the next Darren Waller? If you can do that, then you’re well on your way to cashing in your fantasy championships.
Let’s dive into the Denver Broncos and Noah Fant and see if he’s something useful for your 2021 Underdog Best Ball drafts. At ADP 108, Noah Fant is a fairly affordable option for teams that don’t grab Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, George Kittle, or (sigh) Kyle Pitts. However, there’s an interesting situation in Fant’s skill set that could suggest he belongs in consideration with that group.
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How many people remember Kendall Hinton? Yeah, 2020 was not a good year for the Broncos faithful. Courtland Sutton missed the whole year, Melvin Gordon got busted for a DUI, and star linebacker Von Miller missed the entire season as well. Behind center, Drew Lock put up paltry stats except for one comebacker against the Atlanta Falcons — and the Falcons were on pace to be the worst defense in NFL history for the majority of the season. And to top it off, Drew Lock went in and out of injuries, leaving the Broncos to try out a bevy of backup quarterbacks like Brett Rypien. The Broncos got so desperate one game, they had to start emergency QB Kendall Hinton, who was on the Broncos roster as a wide receiver. 2021 provides a fresh start for the mile-high stallions, with Courtland Sutton reportedly healthy, Von Miller ready to play defense, and a quarterback battle between Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater.
In the midst of that mess in Denver in 2020, Noah Fant finished as TE8 in 2020. Looking at the Team Rise or Fall Study Hub, we see that Fant was on the field for frequently 72% of snaps, and on-field time is essential for TE production. Despite his presence on the field, Fant struggled to get a lot of targets, mostly due to poor quarterback play and game script. Broncos QB Drew Lock finished the season with a 57% completion rate and nearly as many interceptions (15) as touchdowns (16). Despite the inept battery between quarterback and receivers, Noah Fant created the third-most yards after catch in the NFL among tight ends in 2021. Fant’s 377 yards after catch topped Evan Engram and Logan Thomas by 100 yards, despite the fact the latter tight ends saw 10-20 more targets than Fant. About 18% of Fant’s targets came in the red zone — which is good for the top 20 in tight ends — but it’s colored by the fact that the Broncos had the 4th fewest points in the NFL in 2020.
The Team Rise or Fall Underdog Projections envisions Noah Fant as TE9 on the year for Underdog best ball formats. Of course, it’s tough to get excited about the league’s 4th worst scoring offense returning the majority of its core back for 2021. But, there are enough “changes” in the Broncos system to get excited about Fant’s prospects for exceeding his 93 projected targets. Foremost, there’s Teddy Bridgewater. Although Bridgewater isn’t the prototypical franchise quarterback, his career completion percentage is nearly 10% higher than Drew Lock’s, which automatically suggests an upside among all receivers should the Broncos choose Bridgewater. The Broncos’ offensive coordinator, Pat Shurmur, is a well-respected coach of the passing game, with several of his teams putting up top 12 performances in passing yards over multiple years. If Shurmur clicks in 2021 with a new quarterback, we could see targets for Fant increase, and his yards after catch ability could put him into the conversation for that elite Darren Waller-esque draft capital.
Noah Fant is a machine for yards after catch looking for a quarterback who can manage the team more effectively. The arrival of Teddy Bridgewater, coupled with the maturation of Drew Lock, offers an opportunity for Fant to exceed his target projections in 2021. If Fant touches the 105 target threshold — comparable to the likes of Evan Engram — Fant could manage the ground game well enough to get elite yardage and finish much higher in the fantasy standings than his current ADP suggests. At ADP 108 in Underdog best ball drafts, Fant has an outside chance to return top 50 value if the Broncos stay healthy in 2021.
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