Broncos Journal: Is Noah Fant close to joining the AFC West’s other elite tight ends? Vic Fangio thinks so

Twelve things for the Broncos’ 12 rushing touchdowns entering the Sunday’s finale against Las Vegas:

1. Las Vegas’ Darren Waller is one of the game’s top tight ends and leads the Raiders in catches (99), receiving yards (1,079) and touchdown receptions (eight). Waller has 200, 75, 150 and 112 yards in the Raiders’ last four games. The Broncos need to figure out if they have the kind of inside linebacker who can occasionally cover Waller, Kansas City’s Travis Kelce and the Chargers’ Hunter Henry.

2. In Noah Fant, the Broncos feel they have the kind of tight end who can also be a matchup issue. Fant has a team-high 58 catches, including 18 in his last four games (four at Kansas City, eight vs. Buffalo and six at the Chargers). With six catches Sunday, Fant can move into a seventh-place tie with Shannon Sharpe for most catches by a tight end in Broncos single-season history. Sharpe has eight of the top nine seasons. Can Fant be what Waller and Kelce are to the Raiders and Chiefs, respectively?

3. “I think he’s close,” coach Vic Fangio said. “Noah is a very talented player. I think he’s improved this year from last year in many areas. He’s caught the ball well, he runs good with it after the catch and he’s a competitive blocker. I think he’s got a chance to be in the top 10 of tight ends around the league.”

4. Raiders coach Jon Gruden sees similarities in Waller and Fant. “I kind of refer to those guys as ‘jokers’ — they’re good in any hand,” Gruden said. “They can play in-line as a conventional tight end, you can put them in the slot, you can line them up at wide receiver. They can play in any formation and execute any kind of assignment. Their versatility, their athleticism and their football savvy is very impressive.”

5. Fant has only three dropped passes this year (two in Week 3 vs. Tampa Bay and one last week) and only 5 1/2 “bad run” blocks. The presence of Nick Vannett to handle the in-line duties in two-tight end personnel allows offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur to be creative in moving Fant around.

6. An opening-drive goose-egg is possible for the Broncos’ offense — 16 games, 16 opening drives and 16 non-touchdown possessions. They have more first-possession interceptions (three) than scores (two field goals).

7. Good for tight end Jake Butt getting activated for the final game. A fifth-round pick in 2017, Butt has played only eight games because of knee injuries in 2017, ’18 and ’19 and a hamstring injury this year. He caught eight passes in the first three games of ’18 (as a starter), but tore his ACL in practice. This year, he made it through camp healthy and played in five games (two catches) before his hamstring flared up. A free agent at the end of the year, Butt’s future is uncertain but here’s hoping he finds a spot to play.

8. How does rookie receiver Jerry Jeudy respond after his five-drop debacle last Sunday? Shurmur’s first call should be either go route or corner route to see if No. 10 is locked in. Jeudy had three drops in Weeks 1-2, but just two from Weeks 3-15. But then the Chargers game happened.

9. “He obviously dropped some balls, but at the very end, he had a chance to make it all right by catching the last one,” Shurmur said. “It could have been walk-off touchdown or put us in position to make a kick (to force overtime).”

10. Jeudy whined on Twitter, and quickly deleted the post, about not getting more opportunities at Kansas City in Week 13. Shurmur was obviously aware of that when he said unprompted before practice Thursday: “He had 15 targets (last week) — some rookies would be happy to have that in a full season.” Great line.

11. Don’t believe in season-to-season momentum? You shouldn’t and neither does Fangio. “I’m a believer in that (a win) will make Sunday night and Monday feel a whole lot better, but I think each and every season is its own entity,” he said. “Teams change as everybody knows. Teams have great records — their roster changes. Our roster will change somewhat, obviously.”

12. The attendance total of the seven Broncos games in which fans were allowed to attend — 5,226 (Tampa Bay), 5,314 (Kansas City), 5,231 (Chargers), 7,665 (at Atlanta), 5,351 (Miami), 12,578 (at Kansas City) and 5,768 (at Carolina).

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