Could Eric Saubert be the Broncos’ surprise No. 1 tight end?

Jul 29, 2022, 1:47 AM | Updated: 1:46 pm

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — When the Broncos brought back Eric Saubert on May 4, it wasn’t with the expectation that he would end up being their TE1.

His return came on the heels of the team’s decision to draft UCLA tight end Greg Dulcich in the third round. And after Dulcich turned heads during rookie minicamp, it seemed like Saubert would be fighting for a spot three tiers down on the depth chart — similar to where he was last year.

It didn’t take long for that to change.

Dulcich missed much of OTAs with a hamstring injury. He’s still sidelined, and spent the first two days of training camp on a side field.

Meanwhile, the Broncos still needed an all-around tight end. Albert Okwuegbunam is a skilled open-field pass-catcher still working to master the blocking aspects of the position. Free-agent pickup Eric Tomlinson is a beefy blocker who has just two receptions in 32 games played over the last three years.

Enter Saubert.

He got a smattering of first-team snaps during offseason work. But he also went to San Diego as part of a group of teammates invited by quarterback Russell Wilson for extra pre-training camp sessions.

And now, Saubert and Wilson appear to be in lockstep. They connected for two red-zone touchdowns on Tuesday. A day later, Saubert broke open down the seam for a pass from Wilson that would have covered at least 30 yards in game conditions.

But it was more than just being in the right place at the right time.

“He was wide open, but the first part was so great. That was just that understanding of how to move a defender and find a sweet spot,” Hackett said.

And it’s clear early: Wilson trusts Saubert. The two have chemistry. But it wasn’t something that happened with the snap of a finger. It came from the practice fields at UCHealth Training Center and Wilson’s home in San Diego. It came from meetings and back-and-forth, as Saubert learned what Wilson wanted.

The work in San Diego earlier this month was especially vital.

“On top of timing, routes, [it’s] exactly what he’s looking for, the intricacies of the routes. Knowing what he wants — that’s super important, that communication that you don’t always get from your quarterback,” Saubert said. ”

“So, he’s very clear and concise when you’re running your route. On top of that, just bonding, getting to know him as a person, getting to know everybody else as people. That’s priceless on a team when you’re trying to build chemistry. It was a great experience. I love that we did that.”

But it was an experience that seemed unlikely four months ago.


When the offseason began, Saubert wanted to return to the Broncos. But the Broncos didn’t make a move to bring him back — not right away, at least. He sat on the market for over a month and lingered through the draft.

All the while, he wanted to return.

“I was hoping so,” Saubert said. “This is where I want to be all along. Free agency was a little bit of a ride for me, a little longer than I would have liked, but we’re back here, and that’s what matters.”

But the timing of Saubert’s return is relevant — after the selection of Dulcich. The Broncos knew they had to add a tight end whose presence in the huddle wouldn’t tip their hand as to their likely intent. That means finding a tight end who may not be the team’s best blocker or pass-catcher at the position — but who is capable of handling both roles.

If something happened to Dulcich, they needed a dual-threat tight end at the ready. But they weren’t looking for someone like Kyle Rudolph, an 11-year NFL starter who worked out for the Broncos in April.

They needed quality insurance with athletic upside. And even though Saubert has just one career touchdown — and it didn’t come until his 51st career game — he came with still-untapped upside.

Saubert’s transition from FCS Drake was often laborious. The Atlanta Falcons drafted him in 2017, then traded him two years later. He landed on two practice squads.

Denver is his sixth team in the last 36 months. But with Wilson firing him passes, he looks more like a starter than a journeyman.

“As a player, I feel like I’m turning that corner,” Saubert said. “It’s a different timetable for everyone on how they progress in the league, but every year, you want to improve. So, if I wasn’t better this year than I was last year, then I’d be doing something wrong.”

And so far, he’s the perfect fit for the job.

“He’s been great to have on this team,” Hackett said. “We’ve thrown him in there. He’s strong, he’s good at the point of attack in the run game, and then he’s done some good stuff in the pass game. It’s about teaching those details and he’s buying into all that stuff.”

But of equal importance is that Saubert buys into Wilson, who he describes as “another coach on the field.”

“He’s very clear and calm about what he expects and what he wants, and he’s done it before, so he knows exactly what he wants,” Saubert said.

And as Saubert noted this week, that isn’t something he’s experienced in quite the same way before.

“Russell definitely takes it to another level with his preparation and how seriously he takes everything,” he said. “Being around that is infectious, and it’s coming out to a lot of the teammates.

“I think it’s going to be real special when we see exactly how far we can go.”

At the minimum, Saubert himself looks poised to go farther than he’s been in his first five NFL seasons — all the way to the top of the depth chart.


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