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'I want to be one of the best': Fant eyes NFL's top tight ends as he sets expectations for 2020

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Noah Fant isn't content to be average.

As the 2019 first-round pick heads into his second NFL season, his standards are far higher.

"I have the highest expectations for myself," Fant told DenverBroncos.com on Friday. "I want to be one of the best to ever do it. I don't look at pressure from fans or anything. If I live up to my expectations, nobody will have ever expected these things. I don't like to look at it as pressure, but just like as a goal to achieve [and] motivation to reach that goal and get to that level.

"I don't want to just be an average tight end. I want to be one of the greatest to do it."

In fairness, Fant was better than average in 2019, especially when compared to his fellow rookies. He led all rookie tight ends in catches (40) and receiving yards (562), and he ranked second in touchdown receptions (three). He also posted a pair of 100-yard receiving games. As Fant reviewed his first season, though, he saw plenty of missed opportunities and a need for increased consistency.

"I saw that all over the place," Fant said. "I was a rookie. I was up and down, I was side to side — any direction you could go. I flashed really good plays of greatness and some really bad plays. Basically, just going into Year 2, obviously [I] to negate those bad plays and have overall better consistency. I feel like as a rookie putting up almost 600 yards and three touchdowns, that was a good starting point for me, but I also wanted to do a lot better. I left a lot of yards and a lot of touches out there on the field."

Fant has reason to believe that the combination of his increased experience and new Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur's system should help him better take advantage in 2020.

"Just being in that second year, you are a lot more comfortable in our offense," Fant said. "Just knowing where you're supposed to be, knowing where you're going. All these different things that give you just a better [comfort level] and let you relax a little bit more on the field. It definitely feels a lot better than even last year, just from the start of this year."

The Iowa product flashed enough in 2019 to suggest consistent great play could be on the horizon. After a slow start to the season, he dominated both against Cleveland in Week 9 and against Houston in Week 14. Fant said that Texans' contest was among his favorites of the year, as he posted four catches for 113 yards and a score in Drew Lock's first road start. His touchdown catch — a third-down throw on a rope from Lock to Fant — was the young tight end's favorite play of the season.

"It was a tight, contested catch," Fant said. "That was my first touchdown catch from Drew. That was a moment that just was pretty cool, especially me and Drew being in the same class."

Fant said that while Lock will prioritize the open player instead of looking for one receiver repeatedly, the chemistry between the two of them has developed nicely. And that could leave Fant poised to take a massive Year 2 jump.

He wouldn't be the first tight end to make that sort of transition. San Francisco's George Kittle posted 43 catches for 515 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie before catching 88 passes for 1,377 yards and five touchdowns in his second season.

On his quest to be anything but average, Fant has set Kittle and Kansas City's Travis Kelce as the standard for success. Kelce made his fifth-career Pro Bowl in 2019 as he caught 97 passes for 1,229 yards, and Kittle earned a first-team All-Pro nod with 85 catches for 1,053 yards and five touchdowns.

"I look at who's the best in the game to do it right now," Fant said. "You've got George Kilttle and Travis Kelce. You can pick your poison who you think is the best. In my personal opinion, it's George. I think him and Travis are a very close, neck and neck, one and two. So I want to live up to those numbers. All the greats do it. All the greats have done it. Those two are kind of leading the game right now. If I could put myself in the conversation with those guys, then I'll be in good company and I'll be well on my way to reaching those goals that I stated before."

Kittle and Fant, who were teammates for a season at Iowa, have spoken a couple of times this offseason, and the veteran 49er has shared advice with the Broncos' tight end.

"He's looked out for me," Fant said. "That'll always be my guy. His biggest message to me is just go out and have fun in my second year and continue to love the game and continue to have fun out there, and that's what I plan on doing."

He also plans to take a major step forward from an already impressive rookie season. A new system, a promising quarterback, a host of offensive weapons and his own increased comfort should all help him reach those standards.

"Going into Year 2, I know more," Fant said. "I know more about defense, know more about [opposing] teams, know more about our offensive system. I feel like the sky's the limit."

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