How does the Denver Broncos TE room look after trading Noah Fant and drafting Greg Dulcich?

Denver Bronco tight end Greg Dulcich (80) during rookie mini camp drills at UCHealth Training Center.
May 13, 2022; Englewood, CO, USA; Denver Bronco tight end Greg Dulcich (80) during rookie mini camp drills at UCHealth Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos tight end room has been thoroughly transformed this offseason, as the starring face of the room — Noah Fant — was traded to Seattle as a part of the Russell Wilson sweepstakes, and a new exciting rookie — Greg Dulcich — has been added to the mix to take his place.

What is the state of this unit and is it a weakness now that Fant is no longer around? Plus, what should our expectations for this rebuilt unit be in 2022? Let’s take a look.

Albert Okwuegbunam

With Noah Fant now in the Pacific Northwest, Albert Okwuegbunam is the undisputed lead dog in the tight end room, and based on his 2021 showing, he appears to be up to the task.

Since being drafted, Okwuegbunam has consistently shown off the traits and talents that led to him widely being viewed as the most talented tight end in the 2020 draft class. He’s a gifted pass-catcher, who can secure the catch easily in tough situations, and create opportunities for himself after the catch point. He’s a pretty subpar blocker, but he showed a fair amount of progress in this area between 2020 and 2021.

In fact, his whole game developed a great deal between the start of the 2020 campaign and the end of the 2021 season. Despite having to rehab a nasty ACL injury between the two seasons, Okwuegbunam took a massive leap in year two and was arguably the Broncos’ best tight end — ahead of the traded Fant — by season’s end.

Considering Okwuegbunam’s gifts, the fact he’ll have a full and proper offseason this year, the fact he won’t be returning from an ACL tear, and lastly the fact he’ll see an increase in targets, there’s almost no reason to believe he won’t take another sizable leap in 2022.

Those small remaining reasons for concern are that this offense will ask a lot more out of Okwuegbunam as a blocker, which could be a struggle and his incredibly spotty injury history. He avoided injury last season, but Okwuegbunam was consistently injured throughout his collegiate career — which is why he dropped to the fourth round despite his talent — and suffered a season-ending injury as a rookie.

Greg Dulcich

Broncos fans should greatly temper their expectations for the newly acquired flow-god, Greg Dulcich, and that advisory has nothing to do with his talents. It has everything to do with his situation.

There’s only been one time in Russell Wilson’s career where the team’s No. 2 tight end caught more than 25 passes. Only twice has a No. 2 tight end playing with Wilson eclipsed 250 yards, and never has one crossed the 265-yard threshold. Lastly, over the past two seasons, the No. 2 tight end on Wilson’s offenses combined to record three touchdowns.

Not only that, but Dulcich is a rookie, and tight ends — save for the generational freaks of the world, like Kyle Pitts — are notorious for struggling to produce their first year.

If Dulcich finished the season with 250 yards and two touchdowns on 20 receptions, it would be a pretty amazing outcome for Broncos Country, relative to what one would expect given the situation.

Now, it should be noted that Dulcich has some skills that could boost him to greatly outperform these expectations.

Tight ends typically struggle to produce with Wilson, as most tight ends attack the short-to-intermediate part of the field, between the hashes, which has always been an area of the field Wilson struggles to target as the result of his height. Dulcich, however, doesn’t attack the short-to-intermediate part of the field. He’s a field-stretcher who attacks vertically, which is where Wilson likes to attack the defense. Dulcich also has an innate ability to create separation, thanks to his advanced understanding of how to manipulate leverage against man-coverage and how to attack the soft spots of the defense against zone.

He’ll be open frequently and has the talent to create more big plays than just about any tight end Wilson has ever played ever.

That said, it would be wise to keep expectations for production low, and then allow yourself to be wowed in-season.

Eric Saubert

Dulcich offers a ton to the offense, but the concerns about him not being the all-around tight end the offense might’ve needed are valid. That’s why the late addition of Eric Saubert, a veteran who has demonstrated that do-it-all ability, surprisingly boasts so much value.

As it currently stands, a lot of the weapons in the Broncos’ tight end room might be serious tendency indicators. Okwuegbunam and Dulcich are both ‘move’ tight ends that thrive as receivers and struggle as blockers, while Eric Tomlinson has fewer than 10 receiving yards over the last three seasons.

It’s a necessity for this Nathaniel Hackett offense to have someone who they can line up in heavier personnel, with the expectation that their presence can boost both the rushing and passing attacks. Although he ended up being fairly underutilized last season, Saubert flashed some nice ability both as a blocker and as a receiver throughout training camp and into the preseason.

Now as the Broncos look to Saubert more in Hackett’s offense, don’t be surprised if he becomes a sneaky valuable member of the unit.

Eric Tomlinson

There aren’t many players in the NFL who have their roles or niches as clear and well-defined as Eric Tomlinson does. Tomlinson is a fairly one-dimensional, yet gifted, blocking tight end.

His imposing frame and impressive strength make him an absolute mauler in the run game, and, thanks to his AFC North experience, has even shown the ability to help pass protect against the league’s best edge rushers. Tomlinson is really a glorified offensive tackle.

Although his blocking will be very valuable to the Broncos’ run game this season, you do wish he could be a little more versatile at least. Over the past three seasons, he’s been targeted a mere three times, recording two receptions for eight yards. Defenses might overlook his threat as a receiver entirely, which could open up a sneaky opportunity, but that’s not likely.

Andrew Beck

As a result of Andrew Beck’s unique role as a tight end-fullback hybrid, we’ve already discussed him in our look at the Denver Broncos’ backfield, but he’s worth mentioning again.

As of now, it’s hard to really project how much Beck will be utilized as a tight end, because, unlike Pat Shurmur, Hackett will look to utilize him as a fullback a good bit. A lot of the times when the Broncos will have heavier personnel on the field, Beck will be needed at fullback instead.

It seems likely Beck’s role on this team is starting fullback and backup to Saubert as the offense’s do-it-all tight end, and Beck is more than capable of fulfilling the tight end half of that role. The lingering concern is whether or not he’ll be able to be the fullback the Broncos need.

Rodney Williams & Dylan Parham

Rodney Williams and Dylan Parham, the two undrafted free agents the Denver Broncos signed at the position will likely be nothing more than camp bodies.

Okwuegbunam and Dulcich’s roster spots are thoroughly solidified, while Beck (fullback) and Tomlinson (elite blocking tight end) occupy roles on the roster that Williams and Parham likely can’t fill. As a result, for either to make the roster they’ll have to beat out Eric Saubert and pray the Broncos are planning on carrying four tight ends plus Beck on the final roster.

Final Thoughts

Despite trading their most notable star, it’s hard to say whether or not the Broncos are in a worse spot at tight end entering this season.

Fant’s 2021 season and the constant struggles he experienced were frankly bizarre, and it’s far from certain that he would’ve returned to form in 2022. Okwuegbunam was the better tight end for the majority of the season, and now, he’ll get to be the No. 1 tight end because Fant is no longer around. That could prove to be a blessing in disguise.

Plus, the depth behind the top two tight ends has improved this offseason, thanks to the signing of Tomlinson, who should offer a lot to the run game.

The rookie version of Dulcich will probably be somewhat of a downgrade relative to what 2022 Fant could be, but the room otherwise appears to have been upgraded. Lastly, even if the room does suffer a small step back, it shouldn’t matter too much, as neither Wilson nor Hackett have ever utilized the tight end position heavily.

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