The tight end position is one of the most difficult in regard to transitioning from the college game to the NFL level. Not only do tight ends need to learn complex route schemes, but they are often asked to understand blocking in both the run and passing games. Considering all the variables, it’s extremely rare to see any rookie tight end break out.
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Some tight ends — such as George Kittle, Mark Andrews, Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz — broke out in their second seasons, but others needed even more time before they became useful fantasy assets. Austin Hooper, Darren Waller and Tyler Higbee all broke out in their third or fourth seasons. In fantasy football drafts, the elite tight ends come with high draft capital, and there are only so many of them. If you miss out at the beginning of your draft, it’s crucial that you snag one or two of these late-round targets who have shown the upside to suggest they can make the leap.
In this series of articles, I’m looking at the breakout potential at the tight end position with a focus on players entering their second, third and fourth seasons. I'll take a look at their current situations to see if they have a clear path to targets and then analyze what they've done in the NFL to this point to determine whether they've shown the upside to break out in 2020.
Fant's Historic Rookie Tight End Season
Noah Fant is entering his second year in the NFL after an excellent rookie season with the Denver Broncos. The former first-round pick from Iowa led all rookie tight ends in total receptions (40), targets (59) and receiving yards (562). His yardage and three receiving TDs both ranked second on the team in 2019 behind wide receiver Courtland Sutton.
Fant was also a monster after the catch — he led all tight ends in yards after the catch per reception (8.3) among those with at least 25 receptions. This mark was the fourth-best among all qualifying tight ends since 2016.
|Tight end YAC per reception since 2016|
|George Kittle (2018)||9.9|
|Rob Gronkowski (2016)||8.7|
|Evan Engram (2018)||8.7|
|Noah Fant (2019)||8.3|
|Jonnu Smith (2019)||8.1|
Fant's 8.3 mark was also the highest among rookie tight ends with at least 25 receptions dating back to 2010 — by a wide margin.
|Rookie tight end YAC per reception since 2010|
|Noah Fant (2019)||8.3|
|Jermaine Gresham (2010)||7.1|
|Aaron Hernandez (2010)||6.7|
|Lance Kendricks (2011)||6.6|
|T.J. Hockeson (2019)||6.2|
But that's just highlighting one aspect of Fant’s historic rookie campaign. Consider his total production: Fant was one of just five rookie tight ends in NFL history to accumulate at least 40 receptions, 500 receiving yards and average over 14.0 yards per reception in Season 1.
It is important to call out that 2019 was Fant’s age-22 season. For him to deliver such outstanding production at such a young age bodes well for his NFL future. Of course, any Year-2 progress is going to have to happen amid increased competition for targets in 2020.
New Faces in Denver's Passing Attack