Noah Fant Impact: More Than Numbers For Seahawks Offense – Sports Illustrated

RENTON, Wash. – At the center of the Seahawks' surprising offensive output through their first four games, tight ends have been a major focal point in the passing game for new starting quarterback Geno Smith.
Now roughly a quarter of the way through the 2022 season, the trio of Will Dissly, Colby Parkinson, and Noah Fant has caught five of Smith's six touchdown passes, with DK Metcalf being the only receiver to catch a touchdown thus far. After several years of tight ends being a forgotten afterthought, Dissly and Parkinson are each on pace for nearly 500 receiving yards and the three players have efficiently combined to snag 28 receptions on 30 targets.
Interestingly, after being one of the return centerpieces for Seattle in the blockbuster Russell Wilson trade to Denver in March, Fant has been the least productive of the three tight ends thus far. While his 10 receptions ranks fourth on the team, those catches have only netted 56 total yards, two receptions of 10 or more yards, and a single touchdown.
But while Fant's statistics aren't where most expected they would be so far, the former first-round pick out of Iowa has made a more tangible impact for his new team than his numbers may suggest. Though his receiving production has been pedestrian to this point, coach Pete Carroll doesn't expect that will last as the season progresses, acknowledging misfortune kept him from enjoying a breakout game in Detroit last Sunday.
“What’s not noticeable is he had a few plays for whatever reason there is a penalty here or there," Carroll said of Fant's play prior to Wednesday's practice. "He’s missed it by two or three or maybe four plays that he’s converted. He’s doing great and I think he is a terrific weapon."
As Carroll noted, Fant had two big plays wiped out due to penalties by teammates in the Seahawks' 48-45 win over the Lions. A 13-yard reception was nullified by offensive interference called on Metcalf, while a 17-yard catch didn't count later in the game due to a holding call against rookie left tackle Charles Cross. With those two grabs accounted for, he would have caught three passes for 33 yards, which easily would have been his best game from a statistical standpoint.
Instead, Fant was held to one catch for two yards, though he made that lone touch count coming wide open near the goal line for his first touchdown catch of the season to increase Seattle's lead to 24-9 in the second quarter. It marked the fourth straight game with fewer than five receptions and 30 receiving yards to open his tenure with his new team.
Despite the lack of catches and yardage, Carroll has been pleasantly surprised by Fant's positive contributions for the Seahawks in other areas that don't show up in a box score. Most notably, he has made measurable strides in an aspect of his game he wasn't highly regarded for coming out of Iowa four years ago.
"He’s blocking better than we anticipated," Carroll assessed.
Known for his athletic ability and receiving prowess at the college level, Fant vaulted up draft boards in 2019 after an impressive combine workout in Indianapolis. At nearly 250 pounds, he ran a blazing 4.50 40-yard dash and 6.81 3-cone drill along with posting a 39 1/2-inch vertical jump, displaying elite speed, quickness, and explosiveness for his position.
With such enticing athletic tools, the Broncos picked Fant 19th overall hoping he'd quickly emerge as a dynamic vertical threat and matchup nightmare in the passing game, not to try and transform him into a traditional inline blocking tight end.
In spite of lackluster quarterbacks throwing to him, Fant somewhat met expectations as a receiver. Though he never took the big step towards stardom Denver envisioned, he registered at least 40 receptions and 550 receiving yards in each of his three seasons with the franchise. He also finished sixth and third among tight ends in yards after the catch in 2019 and 2020 respectively, exhibiting his ability to create with the football in his hands.
Living up to his reputation coming out of college, however, Fant was out of his element when asked to block NFL defenders, never receiving above a 53.7 run blocking grade from Pro Football Focus and twice scoring under 50.0. Given Seattle's desire to establish the run game as part of a balanced attack with Carroll at the helm, some questioned his fit when he was included in the Wilson trade seven months ago due to those previous struggles.
But on Sunday, Fant showed how far he's come as a blocker, something he's worked at tirelessly since breaking into the league with the goal of becoming one of the premier all-around tight ends.
On the second play of Seattle's opening offensive series, Fant could be seen battling to the whistle on 2nd and 1, driving an edge defender into the Ford Field turf. The pancake block helped running back Rashaad Penny plunge forward for a yard on 2nd and 1, moving the chains for a new set of downs and eventually setting up a touchdown from Smith to Dissly.
Later in the half, Fant's athleticism benefited him as a lead blocker in space on a counter. Sprinting out wide in front of Ken Walker III after running across the formation, he lowered his shoulder at the point of contact to knock cornerback Jeff Okudah off balance, springing the rookie for a 13-yard gain.
There's plenty of room for improvement for Fant, who still has his issues at times holding up physically at the point of attack and maintaining blocks. But while the Seahawks don't expect him to become the next Rob Gronkowski, his progression has been a welcome development for a player who at times didn't seem interested in blocking earlier in his NFL career.
As for his underwhelming pass catching production so far, Carroll isn't worried at all and has no doubts he's going to become a far greater focal point for Smith and offensive coordinator Shane Waldron to get involved in the passing game as the season progresses. In the meantime, until those opportunities come his way, he's proving himself to be a valuable addition for the Seahawks in unforeseen ways as a key cog in a talented position group.
"We expect to see more and use him more,'' Carroll said. "When you have three guys that you are working, it’s early to start adding up numbers and all that. He’s going to be a huge factor. I think he's doing great."
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