DENVER — Jake Butt represents exactly the weapon new Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco requires for success. Butt is a solid blocker who can create space at the top of passing routes. No one questions Butt's ability. His availability? Well...
In two seasons with the Broncos, Butt owns eight catches for 85 yards. He played three games last year, averaging 10.6 yards per reception before tearing his left knee at practice in a non-contact drill. It was hard to reconcile given that Butt missed his rookie campaign while rehabbing a torn ACL in his right knee. He has suffered the injury three times since college, where he blossomed into the nation's top tight end at Michigan.
Butt fell to the fifth round because of injury concerns. Those are issues until they are not. Butt remains five months out from his last surgery. He knows better than to put a timeline on his return, but training camp appears realistic when looking at the calendar. He knows he is approaching a crossroads, but also realizes the intriguing potential of working in an offense with Flacco and new coordinator Rich Scangarello.
"The tight end room is really excited about Joe joining the team along with (position) coach Wade (Harman). He's coached a lot of great tight ends. We are excited about coach Rich, too," Butt said on Sunday night after serving as one of the judges for the Broncos cheerleaders final auditions. "We see how they used George Kittle with the 49ers last year (where Scangarello worked as quarterbacks coach). We know this could be good."
Denver's offense is a problem. The Broncos have posted back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1972, in large part because they required Siri's help to find the end zone. The Broncos averaged 20.6 points per game last season, ranking 24th. It represented an upgrade over the 2017 production of 18.1, sitting 27th. Without dramatic improvement, talk of the Broncos returning to the postseason rings hollow.
"That's what we need to do," Butt said. "That's not just on one man, one coach, it's on all of us. Everybody knows we need to step it up. What's been going on the last couple of years has not been acceptable. It's not Broncos brand of football. We are excited to get to work, get back to the playoffs and make a run."
When Flacco succeeds, the tight end excels. The numbers support the eye test. In 2017, Flacco's last full season as a starter, he completed 99 passes to tight ends, second in the NFL. His accuracy on those targets? Try 77 percent. The Broncos tight ends caught 68 passes last season. In 2014 in Gary Kubiak's offense, which will have some similarities to Scangarello's, Flacco was 76-for-117 when throwing to tight ends.
Production from the position remains paramount.
"There's going to be some opportunity for us," Butt said. "We know that."