Can Denver Broncos third-round TE Greg Dulcich help replace Noah Fant?

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Tucked away in the small print of the blockbuster deal to acquire quarterback Russell Wilson was the team-leading 68 receptions, 670 yards and four touchdowns former Denver Broncos' tight end Noah Fant took with him to Seattle.

The Broncos sent five draft picks, including two first-rounders and two second-rounders, and three players -- Fant, quarterback Drew Lock and defensive end Shelby Harris -- to the Seahawks to finally solve their quarterback problems. And of those three players, Fant's departure presented the most immediate need to fill during the draft.

"From a tight end standpoint, those guys are always the most unique, dynamic guys out on the field because they can do so many different things," said Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett.

Enter tight end Greg Dulcich, the Broncos' third-round pick. Dulcich averaged 17.3 yards per reception during his career at UCLA, including a robust 19.9 yards per catch in 2020.

"When you have a guy that can stretch the field like he can, it's really exciting," Hackett said. "From all of the stuff -- it's not just the intermediate stuff -- but the things truly down the field."

The former Bruins walk-on moved up team's draft boards as the pre-draft process wore on. Even though his timed speed (4.69 in the 40-yard dash at the scouting combine) wasn't as good as those from other top prospects at the position, he consistently created room to work for himself while powering through contact to get the ball.

"I think my speed is definitely elite," Dulcich said. "You watch the film. I'm getting great separation. ... It's really just my background as a receiver helps that a lot and the fundamentals I learned ... to get away from guys and create that separation was huge."

The Broncos almost selected Dulcich with the No. 75 pick, but general manager George Paton wanted additional picks in 2023. Paton moved down to No. 80 in a trade with the Houston Texans that yielded a fifth-round pick in 2022 and a third-round pick in 2023.

After some tense moments, the Broncos made Dulcich their choice when they were on the clock.

"We had to take that," Paton said of gaining two picks in the trade. "We looked at the teams ahead of us and none of them needed tight ends. That's the process you go through -- 'Do they need tight ends?'"

In the big picture, the Broncos figure to distribute the ball more effectively to their wide receivers this season with Wilson at quarterback and Hackett calling the plays, so it's unlikely a tight end leads the team in receptions as Fant did. But Hackett has also made no secret about the prominent role the team's tight ends will play.

Albert Okwuegbunam and Dulcich give the Broncos two potential pass-catching tight ends who can run past linebackers and overpower safeties. The addition of the 6-foot-6, 263-pound Eric Tomlinson in free agency, a player with all of 18 career catches in his six previous seasons, also gives the Broncos an in-line blocker at tight end.

"I'll do whatever they ask me to do," Tomlinson said. "If that's block, I take a lot of pride in that and I'll do it every down."

The teams around the league who had Dulcich as the highest tight end on their draft boards believed he could contribute immediately as a receiver, but would need some time, and more strength, to consistently handle any blocking duties. Dulcich bristled slightly following the draft when asked about his blocking and told teams in pre-draft interviews he could, and would, improve.

"I think everybody once you get to this league and you're blocking some dynamic football players, they always can get a lot better," Hackett said. "I think the good thing about him is the type of person he is. He was a walk-on when he got there, and he fought his way into the tight end room and was very effective. I don't think he's afraid of any bit of hard work."

Dulcich had a connection with Broncos' general manager long before Paton made him a Broncos' draft pick. At St. Francis High School in Glendale, California, Dulcich played for Jim Bonds, who was Paton's roommate at UCLA when Paton played for the Bruins.

"Jimmy passed away a couple years ago." Paton said. "[But] I know he's up there looking down, that's for sure."

Dulcich has already joined the growing ranks of Broncos who have received FaceTime calls from Wilson to set the table of expectations. Wilson welcomed the rookie shortly after the Broncos made him their second pick in the draft.

"It was awesome getting a FaceTime from Russ," Dulcich said. "I was like, this is a Hall of Fame dude, this is the man, and he's just FaceTiming me. So that was just an honor. ... [Okwuegbunam] texted me. I'm excited to be in the same room as him and a number of other guys. It's super exciting."