ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — An hour after the Broncos first went on the clock, they turned in their draft card.
This time, John Elway and the Broncos weren’t trading back.
That’s what they did 10 picks earlier, when Elway shipped the 10th-overall pick to Pittsburgh in exchange for the 20th-overall pick, the 52nd-overall pick and a 2020 third-round pick.
As Elway and Head Coach Vic Fangio made the decision to trade back, they knew that doing so would come at a cost. Before they picked again, several talented players would come off the board.
The value of adding another second-round pick, though, was too much to pass up.
And so they waited. Fangio would later say there were “at least four to five guys we liked” and the team hoped that one would fall to them at the 20th selection.
At least one did — and the Broncos drafted Iowa tight end Noah Fant with the 20th-overall pick.
“Well from 10 to 20, there are a lot of different twists,” Elway said. “When you move back 10 spots, you never know exactly how it’s going to fall out. But we’re excited that Noah ended up being there and we stayed true to the board. And so we feel like we got great value moving back. I think Noah’s going to fit in very, very well. We’re excited about it.”
The selection was seemingly worth the wait.
Inside the war room, Elway stood and celebrated with his staff. When he reached Fangio, he shook the new head coach’s hand and patted him on the back.
It “got a little hectic there,” Fangio would admit later about the trade, but the Broncos came away with a player whose speed is “pretty close to the top of the line at the tight end position.”
Fangio, sitting in on his first NFL Draft as a head coach, was concise when handed the phone in the war room with Fant on the other line.
He just leaned forward and expressed the same message he’s preached in his first several months on the job.
“You ready to come here and compete?” he asked Fant.
Most assistant coaches were visibly elated at the prospect of adding the All-Big Ten tight end.
When Offensive Coordinator Rich Scangarello took the phone, he referenced a previous conversation he’d had with Fant.
“Remember I told you,” Scangarello said. “It’s all about the system you land in, so they know how to use you, buddy. You couldn’t have come to a better place. Can’t wait to work with you.”
Fant couldn’t help but agree.
“To me, going into this draft, I wanted to go to the team that picked me, the team that wanted me, the team that I fit to their scheme, and the Denver Broncos is 100 percent that team,” Fant told the media Thursday night after being drafted. “I’m super excited, and I couldn’t have asked for a better team to pick me. I’m 100 percent OK with that. I still have full belief that I’m one of the best tight ends, and hopefully look to produce like that on the field for the Denver Broncos.”
Indeed, Scangarello’s system impacted the Broncos’ decision to target Fant in the first round.
“Obviously with the success that [49ers tight end George] Kittle had in San Francisco and Rich being out there last year, speed tight ends can be very effective in this offense,” Elway said. “He was a good fit for us.”
Added Fangio: “He was one of the first guys I watched, and obviously he can run. That’s the first thing that jumps out at you. But he’s a competitive blocker also, which is part of his job description being a tight end. We don’t feel he’s just a move tight end or an off-the-ball tight end. He can play on the line of scrimmage also. That was important to us.”
Fant will now head to Denver to keep the celebration going — and to earn a role in the offense as a rookie.
Fangio was asked Thursday night just how big that role could be. And after his message to Fant on the phone, his answer should come as no surprise.
“That’s going to be up to him,” Fangio said. “He’s going to have to come in here and compete with the other guys that we have at the position. They’ve had a four-week head start on him.
“He’s going to have to come in here and work hard and prove his worth and earn whatever he can get.”