As the 2021 offseason winds down and training camp approaches, we're turning our attention toward the season. Over the following few weeks, we'll take a look at each of the position groups on the Broncos' roster before finishing our training camp preview series with a look at some of the top questions facing the team. In our look at each position, we'll fill you in on what we know about the group and what we hope to find out during training camp. We'll also identify a player to keep an eye on when practices and the preseason get underway shortly. We continue the series with a look at the Broncos' tight end position.
What we know:
Noah Fant took the next step in his NFL career in his second season, as he ranked sixth among tight ends in yards and seventh in receptions. At times, the Iowa product was borderline dominant. He caught five passes for 81 yards and a touchdown in the first half of the Broncos' Week 1 game against the Titans, and he caught four passes for 57 yards and a score in the second half against the Steelers. Later in the year, Fant caught a career-high eight passes for 68 yards and a touchdown against the Bills. As he enters Year 3, Fant will look to make the jump to join elite players like Travis Kelce, George Kittle and Darren Waller and earn his first career Pro Bowl appearance.
"I want to get to top five in the league," Fant said in May. "I want to be competing with Kelce, Kittle, Waller and all those guys. That's always been the goal and that's always what I'm pushing for. The ultimate goal is to be the best in the league. We have to work to get there, and that's what I've been doing."
While Fant is the unquestioned top tight end — and perhaps the most talented player on the entire offensive unit — the rest of his position group is less certain. Nick Vannett, Jake Butt and Troy Fumagalli all departed Denver following the season, and Albert Okwuegbunam continues to rehab from an ACL injury. Denver signed Eric Saubert in the second wave of free agency, and the team added Iowa rookie Shaun Beyer as an undrafted player. Austin Fort also returns after another season lost to injury.
As we prepare for training camp, here's a glimpse back at the offseason program with a look just at the tight ends.
What we need to learn:
As we mentioned above, the Broncos will need to use training camp and preseason to determine the pecking order behind Fant. Okwuegbunam flashed a strong connection with Drew Lock before he got hurt in Atlanta in Week 9, but it's unclear how healthy he will be for the start of training camp.
Saubert has largely served as a blocking tight end during his four-year NFL career, but there could be room for another tight end to make the roster depending on Okwuegbunam's status. Andrew Beck is a dual fullback/tight end player whose positional versatility could make him valuable, while Beyer will aim to be the latest undrafted player to make the roster.
Player to watch:
Fant seems poised to take a jump, but that's to be expected. My eyes will be on Okwuegbunam when he's on the field. How is he moving? Has he retained his explosiveness? Has his blocking improved? Can he haul in contested catches? These are the questions that will determine if the fourth-round pick can improve upon a shortened rookie season.
Okwuegbunam has the size, speed and talent to be successful; he demonstrated that as he drew key pass-interference penalties against the Chargers to help Denver earn a comeback win. Whether he can return to the field as a healthy, consistent contributor could determine whether the tight end group remains a strength or if it will be a question mark heading into 2021.