By Chad Jensen
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (247 SPORTS) – After re-signing Jeff Heuerman this past March, the Denver Broncos entered the 2019 NFL Draft with the tight end position still high on their board. Following a trade-back with Pittsburgh, the Broncos ended up taking Noah Fant at pick 20. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Fant is an explosive receiver who brings 4.5 speed to the tight end position.
For a guy like Heuerman, a Broncos 2015 third-rounder, the Fant pick could be interpreted as an indictment of sorts, or at least a shot across the bow. Publicly, though, that’s not how Heuerman is viewing it.
“Noah’s a good player, and when we add good players it’s good for the team,” Heuerman said on Tuesday following Day 2 of OTAs. “Ultimately, we want to have a good team to win games. We’re working together and it’s going to be good. We’re all learning a new offense and it’s going to be exciting.”
For what it’s worth, I believe Heuerman’s team-first perspective. After all, it’s not like we’re talking about an entrenched multi-year starter in Heuerman. He was hovering close to bust status in Denver before finally taking over the starting duties in 2018.
Had Heuerman not suffered a season-ending injury in Week 12 vs. Pittsburgh, he was on pace for an impressive season, even in a relatively impotent offense. He was just beginning to hit his stride as his rookie contract expired, which makes it understandable why the Broncos wanted to bring him back.
At this stage, Heuerman remains the veteran leader in the tight end room. But Fant is a powerhouse player and it won’t take long for that to come out in the wash with regard to playing time.
“We’ve got a lot of guys with ‘Fum’ (Troy Fumagalli), Noah [Fant], Jake [Butt] and some of the other guys,” Heuerman said. “Learning a new offense, this offense is a whole [lot] different than what we’ve had in the past. Yeah, just helping them learning, and I’m learning myself, too. We’re all learning.”
Unlike the tact veteran QB Joe Flacco took regarding the question of mentoring Broncos’ rookie second-rounder Drew Lock (which, coming from a QB, should not be alarming to fans), Heuerman’s outlook is more altruistic. Heuerman wants to make the team better and is sick and tired of losing. If bringing Fant along is a means to that end, Heuerman’s all for it.
“Like I said, I’m going to come in here every day and do whatever I’ve got to do to make this football team as good as we can be to go win games,” Heuerman said. “Noah just got here, so I’m going to teach him everything I can teach him. Anything to help this football team—whether it’s teaching him, running, blocking or doing whatever.”
As it stands, Heuerman is the best blocking tight end the Broncos have on the roster, though Fant is no slouch in that department. The rookie might not be a Virgil Green-level blocker quite yet, but as head coach Vic Fangio said after he was drafted, Fant is a “competitive blocker.”
It’s not the rookie’s forte, but he at least has the want-to. That foundation can be built upon by new TEs Coach Wade Harman, with a little input from OL Coach Mike Munchak.
Heuerman flashed impressive ability at times last season. In Week 9 vs. the Houston Texans, he posted a career-high 10 receptions for 83 yards and a touchdown.
Skeptics view that game as an outlier and understandably so. I believe Heuerman has the ability to be a very good No. 2 tight end for the Broncos.
But he’s not a TE1. Heuerman has simply never been able to sustain any level of consistency for the Broncos, although the injury bug has most definitely played a role in that. With the addition of a first-rounder into the TE competition, we might see a feistier Jeff Heuerman.
Noah Fant, while having proven nothing yet as a pro, has the makings of a TE1. The rookie has already begun to forge a chemistry with Joe Flacco. It’s only a matter of time before Heuerman is outshined and usurped as a starter.
But in the meantime, the veteran will continue to put his head down and work, while doing whatever he can to help bring the rookie along and lead the TE room. It’s that type of unselfish mentality the Broncos need right now.