The Denver Broncos are seemingly moving, once again, in a direction toward a brighter future at the tight end position. As Broncos fans are aware, it has been three solid seasons where the team has barely kept its head afloat with tight ends. Thankfully, that could change sooner rather than later.
For the Broncos, the positional rebuild officially began at the end of the 2015 Super Bowl winning season. All-Pro Julius Thomas had packed his bags for Miami at that point, and the Broncos were strung thin. The likes of Virgil Green, Owen Daniels, and late-season addition of Vernon Davis were doing the team no favors.
Jeff Heuerman come on down
In an attempt to move forward, the team selected former Ohio State tight end Jeff Heuerman in the 3rd round of the 2015 draft (No.92 overall) with high hopes for the 6’5″ pass-catcher. Unfortunately, it would not come to be as Heuerman suffered a torn left ACL during a non-contact drill and missed the entire season.
The 2015 season was rough for Broncos tight ends. In fact, it was rough for all pass catchers. In Peyton Manning’s final season, in which he finished with just nine touchdown passes the entire season, eventually leading to his benching before reclaiming the starting job, tight ends accounted for four of the teams nineteen total touchdowns.
Jumping ahead to the 2017 NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos selected a player who could have been arguably a top positional player in the draft. It was former Michigan tight end Jake Butt. Butt, who was expected to be taken in the second round, fell to the Broncos in the fifth. In his final game at Michigan, Butt like Heuerman, had suffered a torn ACL.
The injury did not deter the Broncos from making him their selection that year, with the hopes that he would rebound admirably. Now, that hope is on a path to reality. Butt is now healthy, fully recovered from his horrific injury, and looking to move forward as the long-term option the Broncos so desperately need.
What can we expect moving forward?
This past season the Broncos offense was atrociously bad. Finishing 5-11, the sole bright spot for the team was C.J. Anderson and his 1,000-yard effort. As Trevor Siemian struggled to find his footing, the tight ends once again fell flat, accounting for just five total touchdowns between the likes of A.J. Derby, Virgil Green, and recently recovered Jeff Heuerman. Out of them all, Heuerman looked by far the best out there, appearing in fourteen games and finishing with 9 receptions for 142 yards and 2 touchdowns.
As if a healthy Heuerman and Butt aren’t enough, and let us be real its not, the Broncos brought in more depth at the tight end position in this year’s draft. Former Wisconsin Badger Troy Fumagalli was the guy with their fifth-round pick. According to many analysts, Fumagalli could find himself a chance to start and is someone to watch for this upcoming season as a potential sleeper. Last season, Fumagalli received the Kwalick-Clark Big Ten Tight End of the Year honors. He led the team in receptions with forty-six.
As for what Denver Broncos fans can expect, right now, that is to be determined. The silver lining for Denver, however, is that the team has seemingly moved from no replacement-level tight ends to three guys with high upsides, all of whom could step in and be “that guy” for years to come.
2018 should be a fun season in the Mile High City.