ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Through seven games, Noah Fant has already totaled more than 60 percent of the yardage that he put up as a rookie.
He's already tallied nearly 70 percent of the catches he recorded in Year 1. He's recorded two touchdowns, compared to a total of three in his first season.
His catch rate has gone up by nearly 10 percentage points, his yards per game and catches per game have both increased and he is on pace to also set a new mark in first-down catches.
He's also a much better blocker than he was a year ago, as he transitioned to an NFL system.
Fant has posted these numbers — 32 catches for 349 yards and two touchdowns — despite battling an ankle injury since Week 4.
So what's his grade for himself at the midway part of the season?
"If I had to grade myself on it, I'd give myself a B-minus probably," Fant said Thursday.
Fant said before the season he wants to be considered among the game's top tight ends. He reiterated that desire Thursday and explained what he needed to do to join those ranks.
"I think my season so far has been all right," Fant said. "Obviously, I want better for myself, but I think it's been decent. I still want to keep improving and keep playing a bigger role in the offense — keep blocking — just doing all those things that an every-down tight end needs to do.
"… I just want to be great. I want to be one of the best to do it and try to help this offense as much as possible. So, I definitely feel like I can offer a lot more."
After injuries over the last few weeks to Andrew Beck, Jake Butt and Albert Okwuegbunam, the Broncos certainly need their 2019 first-round pick to deliver. He's done that well through seven games, particularly in the middle of the field. With a potentially increased target share with Okwuegbunam done for the year, Fant will look to make the same impact in the red zone.
"A lot of people say that in the red zone it gets tighter and windows are smaller, which it is to an extent," Fant said. "In my opinion, every play it's not going to be easy to get open. Even in the open field you're going to be going against tight coverages, zone coverage, everything of the sort. I think in general it's just some more consistency in the offensive play. If we can do it going all the way down the field, there should be no reason we can't punch it in in the red zone. That's just the way I take to it and I think of it, and obviously once you get in the red zone you want to put points on the board. Three points is obviously OK, but you don't want to aim for three points when you get down there. We definitely need to look to improve in that area and keep trying to get better there."
Fant will push to make an even bigger impact in the second half of the season, and perhaps he'll be able to have the benefit of better health down the stretch.
"Obviously, I'd like to be fully healthy, but very rarely are you going to get through a whole season fully healthy at all times," Fant said. "[I'm] just getting through it — doing treatment every day, taking care of my body, that whole thing. So, hopefully I can build on this first half of the season into the second half and keep doing some good things."
Cornerback A.J. Bouye has recorded multiple interceptions in three of his seven seasons as a starter, including a six-interception output in 2017.
The veteran addition has appeared in just three games this season as he's missed time because of both a shoulder injury and a concussion, but he practiced in full on Thursday and appears poised for a return this weekend. When he's been on the field, he said he feels close to snagging his first interception of the season.
"I felt pretty close," Bouye said. "There are certain plays where I've jumped routes and they don't throw — it's just really the ones, again, that I have to capitalize on them being good throws. It just sucks that I missed a good amount of games to really catch a rhythm, but I'll just try to do that in practice. I'm not forcing anything — if it comes, it comes — but I just have to do my job and keep making plays someway, somehow."
Bryce Callahan, Bouye's counterpart, has two interceptions of his own this season — both coming in the last four weeks — and has impressed Head Coach Vic Fangio with his play.
"He's definitely playing really, really good for us," Fangio said Thursday. "He's played both corner [positions] for us. He's been the nickel for us. I think he's playing at a very high level when he's been in there and been healthy. He's very capable of that. Pro Bowl or not, I don't know. He certainly would get strong consideration from me. I think the rest of the season will determine that for him, and I definitely think he's a guy on everybody's radar for that potential."
Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur said Thursday that he's seen "steady improvement" from Drew Lock each week and that the young quarterback "made some great throws" against the Falcons, both in the pocket and on the run.
Shurmur did acknowledge, though, that Lock will learn from a fourth-quarter interception that he threw off his back foot.
"We weren't protected right on the one interception," Shurmur said. "He just has to eat it or throw it away, and he'll learn that, but that's that basketball player in his driveway going to try to make that fadeaway. So, that's human nature and part of the maturity process. The growing process is to know the next time that happens, that's not my reaction. I either eat it or put it somewhere where nobody gets it and then you get back in the huddle and call another play."