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Mile High Morning: How much could Noah Fant improve in his second season? 


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It should come as no surprise to Broncos faithful that Drew Lock made an appearance on Bill Barnwell's list of winners of the 2020 NFL offseason.

With draft picks Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler and Lloyd Cushenberry III joining an offense that also added Melvin Gordon III and Graham Glasgow in free agency, Lock should enjoy improved offensive line play, a more reliable run game and a more explosive collection of receivers.

That development should thrill the quarterback, and Broncos fans, as Lock prepares for his first full season as the starter.

But aside from Lock, I think there's another big winner after the Broncos' big offensive splash this offseason: Noah Fant.

Though the Broncos added more weapons for Lock, it still seems reasonable to expect that Fant can also become more productive, especially since the two receivers can attract attention from both safeties and give Fant more space with which to work.

With Shurmur leading the offense, perhaps Fant could increase his production similar to how Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph did with Shurmur beginning in 2016, when Shurmur was his position coach and, later, the interim offensive coordinator.

Like Fant, Rudolph entered his first season with Shurmur after a season in which he had been his team's No. 2 receiver. With Adam Thielen emerging as a starting wideout after showing flashes in two games the previous season, the Vikings formed a new, dynamic WR tandem. Even with the additional weapon, though, Minnesota managed to see Rudolph grow in his role. From 2015 to 2016, his receiving output increased from 49 catches for 495 yards and five touchdowns to 83 catches for 840 yards and seven touchdowns.

Though Rudolph's yardage and reception total dropped in his second season with Shurmur leading the offense in Minnesota, he was more reliable. That season he caught 70.4% of his targets, up from 62.9 in 2016, and nearly tied his career high in touchdowns with eight.

We could also look to Evan Engram's two years under Shurmur, though his injuries in 2018 and 2019 leave us with an incomplete picture. Still, given that Engram impressive athletic gifts are similar to Fant's, the comparison could be useful.

Engram had an outstanding rookie season with 722 yards and six touchdowns, and as Shurmur entered the fold as the Giants' head coach in 2018, Engram appeared poised to build off his first year. Though he missed five games with knee and hamstring injuries, Engram improved his yards per catch from 11.3 to 12.8 and his catch percentage from 55.7% to 70.3%. With 52.5 yards per game, Engram likely would have recorded at least 800 receiving yards had he played as much as he did his rookie season.

In 2019, Engram increased his receiving average to 58.4 yards per game, but he played in only eight games before being placed on injured reserve with a foot injury.

Assuming Fant can remain available and healthy for his sophomore season in Denver, it seems likely that he could see similar growth as a receiving threat in 2020.

Below the Fold

Several of ESPN's fantasy football experts also see Fant as an underrated player at tight end. Among late-round options, Fant was three experts' favorite tight end. "Fant is my favorite wait-on-TEs pick for 2020, a second-year player ready to take the next step toward being a potential top-five fantasy option at the position," wrote Tristan H. Cockcroft.

For more insight on the fantasy football outlook for Broncos players, be sure to check out our interview with ESPN's Matthew Berry. In the conversation with Aric DiLalla, he described his expectations for Drew Lock, Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton and more.

Broncos guard Dalton Risner joined CBS4's Michael Spencer for an interview on Monday, and his reaction to the draft was much the same as so many fans and analysts alike: "I love it so much. I love what Elway and Fangio did," Risner said.

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