LARAMIE — Not many draft hopefuls have the benefit of knowing exactly where they stand when it comes to the NFL Draft.
Austin Fort was all but certain.
It’s why the Gillette native wasn’t exactly sweating it out like most draft-eligible players do over the course of the three-day draft. Fort knew he almost certainly wasn’t going to get drafted after an up-and-down career at Wyoming, but the 6-foot-4, 245-pound tight end caught the eye of a handful of teams during the pre-draft process, including the Denver Broncos.
The Broncos drafted Iowa tight end Noah Fant in the first round, but Fort said he began getting calls from them in the middle to late rounds of the draft. If nobody ended up taking Fort, the Broncos let him know they wanted to sign him as their No. 1 tight end as an undrafted free agent.
The Kansas City Chiefs — another team Fort said expressed interest in him leading up to the draft — also offered him a contract. But within an hour after the seven-round draft ended April 27, Fort was a Bronco.
“I was excited,” Fort said. “I felt like I put myself in a good position to have a contract when the draft was over. That was the goal that my agent and I had, so I felt like everything I had done the end of my senior season, my pro day and my workout with the Broncos, I’d put myself in a good position to get that contract.”
Fort will report Thursday for the team’s rookie minicamp, which begins Friday and runs through next Sunday. Including Fort, the Broncos have five tight ends on the roster and will carry four on the active 53-man roster next season, Fort said.
One of those spots will go to Fant, whom the Broncos took with the 20th overall pick after trading down in the first round, but the competition for the other three spots is fluid. That along with his familiarity with the Broncos after taking part in the team’s local pro day on April 10 is why Fort ultimately signed with them.
“When I did the local pro day there, I got to work with (tight ends) coach (Wade) Harman, and we sort of clicked right off the bat,” Fort said. “I felt comfortable in the building, and they made it clear that they wanted me there. The Chiefs were definitely really interested, but it was more of we can bring you in and see what you can do where the Broncos were kind of saying that we want you here.”
Fort said he’s confident in his ability to earn a roster spot after the way he performed leading up to the draft with a clean bill of health.
Fort began his career at Wyoming as a quarterback after an all-state senior season at Campbell County High School in Gillette, but after a brief detour at Chabot Community College in California, Fort returned to Wyoming as a walk-on tight end in 2016. He was listed as a co-starter heading into his redshirt junior season in 2017, but a pair of knee injuries limited him to 17 games over his last two seasons.
Fort, who finished his collegiate career with 17 catches for 221 yards and four touchdowns, shed his knee brace for the College Gridiron Showcase in Dallas in January. He then piqued teams’ interest by running the 40-yard dash in 4.56 seconds and the three-cone drill in 6.8 seconds at Wyoming’s pro day in March — both of which would’ve ranked among the top three times for tight ends at the NFL scouting combine.
“For a guy my size running in the 4.5s was huge, and that really kind of put me on the radar with a lot of teams,” Fort said.
Having operated in a pro-style offense at Wyoming the last three seasons will help in his transition to the next level, but Fort said his speed and athleticism as a pass-catcher are what he believes will set him apart from the competition on the Broncos’ roster.
Now that he’s got his shot, he doesn’t intend to waste it.
“I’m going in there ready to compete for a spot on the team,” Fort said. “My mentality is the organization, it’s the best decision they ever made taking me. I’m walking in there confident and just ready to work.”