ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There often isn't room for "later" in the NFL, a league that spends most of its time talking about "right now."
And right now, five games into his rookie season with the Denver Broncos, first-round pick Noah Fant is fifth on the team in targets and receptions, fourth in receiving yards and he is one of three Broncos' players to have at least one receiving touchdown.
It's a small sample size for the tight end out of Iowa who was taken 20th overall, but offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello said he's shown "flashes of greatness," including a catch-and-run touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars, to go with "flashes of good, flashes of bad.''
Fant is still working through his football growing pains, which have included multiple penalties against the Oakland Raiders, a key drop against the Chicago Bears and a fumble against the Green Bay Packers. Scangarello said there will be fewer "flashes of bad," though.
Because in the Broncos' scheme, the team's coaches have said only the quarterback has a more difficult learning curve than a first-year tight end.
"I would agree," said former Broncos quarterback Brian Griese earlier this season. "No question there is a lot on their plates that wasn't on their plates before. And in this offense you need three good tight ends to make work like you want it to. He is an important player."
"We ask more of our tight ends than any other position outside of the quarterback," is how Scangarello put it. "They need to know the run game, pass protection and they have to be route runners. And when they practice, that means they fatigue because they run routes and they block like a lineman. All that adds up and accumulates on a guy when he plays a lot of reps, especially when they're rookies and they're learning the league. That's the trickle-down effect, that's what happens when a guy gets loose with the ball or tries to do too much. The finer things aren't there. A year from now, he'll be a completely different player. ... Could that happen next week and get better and better? Absolutely, and that is the goal."
For his part, Fant has consistently said he understands what is expected of him and how much work it will take. The blocker-receiver life in an offense like the Broncos' is vastly different than how he played during his time at Iowa.
"To me, it's about eliminating those rough spots," Fant said. "I've said I think there have been bright spots at times, but overall you don't want bright spots, really, you want that to be the level you're at all the time. And to do that it's eliminating the rough spots. I believe that."
Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe was a converted wide receiver when he arrived to the Broncos as a 22-year-old rookie. He eventually flourished in Mike Shanahan's offense, becoming one of the best to ever play the position, but he had just 29 receptions in his first two years combined.
"I had to find a way not to let my mistakes in blocking or when things didn't go right affect the parts of the game where I could have an impact," Sharpe said. "That was hard sometimes, you have to keep your confidence and know you're going to block at times or you won't play and to get the ball you have to play."
Fant's touchdown against the Jaguars, a 25-yarder in the first quarter in which he accelerated past several defenders to score, is the kind of play the Broncos want to see.
"You saw when he opened it up, most guys would have gotten tackled probably for a 10-yard gain and you have to earn it the rest of the way in the end zone," Scangarello said. "Instead, you score from the edge of the red zone and you get the touchdown. That's what game-changers do in this league, it's what makes you a better playcaller, a better offense and a better team."
Scangarello offerered up Pro Bowl tight end George Kittle's development during Scangarello's time with the San Francisco 49ers staff as a comparison. Kittle -- also from Iowa -- had 43 receptions and two touchdowns as a rookie in a similar offense before an 88-catch, 1,377-yard season the following year.
"George's first year in the league I think he led the NFL in drops, he was a liability in the run game at times, he would break the huddle and be unsure," Scangarello said.
"The more we go along, the more we realize the things that he does well," said quarterback Joe Flacco of Fant. " ... That's part of it. The other part of it is getting the ball in his hands, giving him some confidence ... he's just in the beginning."