The Broncos have trailed the rest of the division offensively since the second half of the 2015 season when it became clear that Peyton Manning had very little left in the tank.
Since then, the Broncos have had the worst quarterback and the worst offensive line in the division, and now, following the Raiders’ flurry of offseason moves, arguably the division’s worst receiver group.
To combat this, the Broncos invested heavily in turning around a position group where they’ve ranked near the bottom of the league for several seasons by drafting first-round tight end Noah Fant.
“He is a quick learner. He’s got a skill set, and he can do just about anything,” offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello said Sunday of Fant. “I’ll say this, I think that one of the things that was most undervalued about him coming in the draft that we felt very strongly about is I think he is an excellent run blocker. The zone system and his athleticism, I am excited about that. The pads went on, and he is really showing very, very well. We’re excited about that.”
Let’s take a look at how Denver’s gamble helps the Broncos stack up against their division rivals at tight end.
Kansas City Chiefs
As is the case with the quarterback position, the Chiefs rank first in the division because they likely rank first in the league with Travis Kelce. Outside of Kelce and George Kittle, can any tight end currently in the league make an argument for being the best around right now?
Ever since entering the league, he’s been a pain in the side of the Broncos. Over just their last three meetings, Kelce has hauled in 20 passes for 321 yards and three touchdowns. They, along with most of the other defenses in the league, have no answer for his rare Rob Gronkowski-an mix of athleticism, size, route running, and hands.
The one question mark for Kansas City at tight end position is depth, as they have none. Even though every other team in the division as more functional starters than the Chiefs, Kelce is just head and shoulders above the competition.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers were the long-reigning kings of the tight end position during Antonio Gates‘ prime when he was nearly uncoverable in the red zone. With Hunter Henry now ready to take over from the former Kent State basketball star, they could soon be right back there.
Henry missed last season with a torn ACL, but he was close to overtaking Kelce after his first two seasons in the league despite sitting behind Gates for much of it. Like Kelce, Henry is a rare breed at tight end thanks to his athleticism and ability to do anything from making the tough contested catches to helping out in the run game.
While Henry should take over as the starter barring a setback, that doesn’t mean Gates will be out of the picture entirely. You can count on the trusty veteran still burning opposing defenses with his box out move in the front of the end zone for an easy score as he tries to move past Marvin Harrison on the all-time receiving touchdowns list.
While Hunter Henry and Travis Kelce are easily better tight ends today and will be for the foreseeable future, Broncos rookie Noah Fant has the potential to be better than all of them.
What makes Henry and Kelce the class of the division, and made Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Gates all-time greats, was combining their physical gifts with polish and attention to the details, which is what Fant is lacking now.
He needs to clean up the little things like his route running, his ability to help the team in the run as a blocker, and most importantly, his hands which drop the occasional pass.
Like all things, that refinement should come with practice and experience, which Fant should get plenty of despite the Broncos’ loaded tight end group. Denver definitely has the deepest tight end group by far in the division, as they have three tight ends in Fant, Jeff Heuerman and Jake Butt that could find a starting or heavy rotational role elsewhere in the league without much difficulty.
Outside of the Chargers, no other team in the division has two, and the Raiders might not even have one.
We started this list with maybe the best tight end group in the league, and now we’ll wrap it up with what is quite possibly the worst.
The current leader on the depth chart is Darren Waller, who was out of the league until the Raiders brought him onto last year’s squad where he finished the season six receptions.
However, by the time the dust settles, expect Luke Willson and fourth-round rookie Foster Moreau to emerge as the two top dogs. Willson is the most experienced tight end on the roster, accumulating 156 receptions for over 1,200 yards during his career though he offers very little in terms of upside.
Moreau on the other hand, is probably the most talented tight end on the roster, though he’s also obviously the least experienced. Moreau was primarily a blocking tight end at LSU, but during the Senior Bowl showed off his ability to catch the ball and shot up draft boards. He also has “A+” character and work ethic, as demonstrated by his wearing No. 18 while in Baton Rouge. The jersey is an LSU honor that’s given to the hardest worker and best leader as voted on by his teammates and the former wearers of the number.