When the Denver Broncos acquired Russell Wilson via trade, they opened up a hole in their tight end room by trading former first-round pick Noah Fant to the Seattle Seahawks.
With that need remaining as NFL free agency comes to a close, how could the Broncos address that void via the NFL Draft?
Here, we’ll take a look at three potential solutions that Denver should consider targeting.
Trey McBride, Colorado State
If you were to take a poll among members of Broncos Country to try and find out who the most desired replacement for Noah Fant is, the results would likely be a landslide victory for local star Trey McBride.
McBride’s Colorado native status paired with the impressive résumé he built during his time with the Rams makes him appealing to Broncos fans, as does his skill set, which is perfect for Nathaniel Hackett’s offense.
Trey McBride (Colorado State) was sitting at 19th in the nation in receiving yards per game. He’s one of just 2 TEs in the top 50 (Isaiah Likely – Coastal Carolina at 47th).
He can block his ass off, too.
— Christian Williams (@CWilliamsNFL) November 20, 2021
McBride is extremely versatile and impacts the game at a high level both as a pass-catcher and as a blocker. He’s a natural catcher of the football and has the speed and physicality to create after the catch point.
Trey McBride's PFF Grade over the last three seasons:
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) March 27, 2022
Plus, while he projects as a prototypical inline tight end, he has the athletic traits to be successful as a move tight end too. Colorado State even used him in the backfield as a fullback.
Presently, his route running is sloppy and his blocking technique, especially when asked to help in pass protection, could use some work.
Overall though, McBride would be a slam-dunk selection for the Broncos, though it seems unlikely he’ll fall to the 64th pick. Even if he does, Denver might debate taking a tight end so high when they have so few premium picks.
Cade Otton, Washington
Eric Tomlinson provides the Broncos with a tight end who can serve as an excellent blocker, though he offers almost nothing as a receiver. Albert Okwuegbunam provides the Broncos with a high-end pass-catcher at the position, but his ability to block in this scheme is a serious question.
Denver is still lacking a do-it-all option at the position that fits Hackett’s scheme, and like McBride, Otton could fill that void, and probably at a cheaper cost-of-acquisition than McBride.
I hate how much the Washington offense hindered Cade Otton. Kid can play. pic.twitter.com/0vn6ithJ7V
— Ryan Roberts (@RiseNDraft) January 13, 2022
Otton is one of the best blocking tight ends in this draft, thanks to his gritty and physical demeanor as well as his rare length at the position. That length allows him to outreach opposing defenders and dominates their one-on-one matchups.
Going back over some TE “tape” in prep for tonight’s show and my love for Washington #Huskies TE Cade Otton keeps growing.
Love this ability to reach inside, turn, and pancake this DL. Love to see it pic.twitter.com/3a8QSJnCbR
— Patrick Chiotti (@PatrickChiotti) February 25, 2022
Otton isn’t just a blocker though, as he flashes impressive receiving skills as well. Unlike Okwuegbunam or McBride, Otton isn’t a huge threat to create after the catch point, but he does have excellent hands that allow him to win contested-catch situations and secure the ball through contact. He also showcases his intelligence with an excellent understanding of how to manipulate and take advantage of leverage.
Crafty SOB @CadeOtton
TE Cade Otton already understands how to ‘get where he’s going’ and attack leverage with patient/burst/subtlety in routes @UW_Football
I love watching this kid play. pic.twitter.com/pMrnHjZWjZ
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) June 8, 2021
If the Broncos miss out on McBride or decide they don’t want to make the lofty investment in him, Otton would be an excellent option that can provide a lot of the same qualities at a considerably cheaper investment.
Isaiah Likely, Coastal Carolina
If the Broncos were looking to replace Noah Fant’s skillset rather than target a new type of tight end for Hackett’s scheme, Isaiah Likely could be a very intriguing option.
As was just alluded to, Likely isn’t the most natural fit in Nathaniel Hackett’s offense, but he isn’t necessarily a bad fit either.
Isaiah Likely's 1,513 receiving yards since 2020 are the most by a Tight End in college football 💪
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) February 2, 2022
Likely is an impressive athlete at the tight end position and is comfortably the most dangerous receiving threat of any of the options on this list. He has the athletic traits to stretch the seam and create big plays offensively and consistently creates big plays after the reception. He also catches the ball like a wide receiver, and his excellent ball skills are clear as day when asked to attack deep.
Great option route here by Coastal Carolina TE Isaiah Likely. Looking forward to see him get some work in the Senior Bowl this week. pic.twitter.com/MhR0ANfOgE
— The 4 Man Rush (@4ourmanrush) February 1, 2022
Despite going to a smaller school, it’s clear that Likely has an incredibly high football IQ and is an especially smart player, as demonstrated by the extreme number of responsibilities he was tasked with and his ability to perform those responsibilities well.
The big knock on Likely and his fit with the Broncos will be his limitations as a blocker. Now, on the positive end, there is zero reason to debate Likely’s physicality or his desire to block. The motor and physical temperament are certainly there. His lack of blocking prowess has a lot more to do with his lack of length, and that is something he can’t develop.
Jets like Isaiah Likely who sealed the edge here with a nice block on a sam Howell TD pic.twitter.com/zgX00Zcimt
— Will Parkinson (@Willpa11) February 5, 2022
Though, as that clip demonstrates, he’s far from hopeless in that regard and can still make an impact as a blocker, though it certainly won’t be his strong suit.
Having that willingness to block is huge and should not go overlooked, but there’s also reason to worry that Likely might never be able to remedy that hole in his game.