Is this the season the Broncos get back to their winning ways? Last year, in the first season with Vic Fangio as their head coach, the Broncos finished one game below .500 with a 7-9 record. They did finish the season strong, going 4-1 over the final five games of the regular season. That finish has given fans hope that this team is finally on the right track and can perhaps even make a postseason run – especially with the league expanding the playoffs by one team in each conference.
During the last three years, the Broncos have drafted well, and this roster has talented players on both sides of the ball. However, there are questions that need answers before the start of the regular season. In this series at 1043TheFan.com, we will go through each position group searching for those answers.
This is the latest part in our Training Camp Preview. Today, we’ll take a deep dive on the wide receiver position.
Starters: Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy
We’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to wide receiver Courtland Sutton. He put up career-best numbers in 2019, his second year as a pro, and Sutton did that while catching passes from three different quarterbacks (Joe Flacco, Brandon Allen, Drew Lock). Two of those three quarterbacks did not play at a high level in 2019, but Sutton came through no matter who was tossing him the rock.
Sutton’s 72 targets was the best on the team in 2019, and he also led the way with 1,112 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns. Even though it was only for five games, Sutton and Lock showed great chemistry on the field together. When Lock needs Sutton to make a big play, it seems like he would come through every time. His size, strength and wingspan make him a great red-zone target in addition to Sutton’s “my ball” mentality. Lock is aggressive enough to attack a coverage look, and Sutton is able to gather in passes that others cannot.
He uses his large frame to box out smaller defenders and could post near-10 receiving touchdowns in 2020. The coverage Sutton is going to see is likely better than what he saw last year, especially after Emmanuel Sanders was traded away.
Sutton is the No. 1 receiver and will draw opposing defense’s best cover corner. But now with all the talent added around him, Sutton may see more single coverage than he did in 2019. That’s nothing but great news for Sutton’s potential and his connection with Lock.
Jerry Jeudy was arguably the best receiver in the 2020 NFL Draft, a class that was considered to be perhaps the best in league history. Denver was so fortunate to have Jeudy to fall to them at the No. 15 overall pick in the first round. I compared his game to superstar receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and Jeudy could perform like him from day one.
Jeudy’s best asset as a wide receiver is his route-running ability. Most rookie receivers come into the league and lack polish but not Jeudy. His game is about as pro ready as you can be and that should help him star from day one.
In addition to route-running, Jeudy has plenty of speed and quickness to his game. His footwork is outstanding before the catch and his speed shows up after the catch. Jeudy can take short passes and turn them into long gains. He’s also a great deep target.
Combining his physical ability with his technical ability, you can see how Jeudy can be a great pro receiver. He will be No. 2 on the depth chart opposite of Sutton. However, Jeudy is basically another No. 1 receiver for the team.
Last year for the Crimson Tide, Jeudy was great when gathering in passes of more than 20 yards. In fact, his quarterbacks averaged a QB rating of 127.8 on such throws. Enter Broncos starter Drew Lock with his big arm and these two should have instant chemistry.
Reserves: K.J. Hamler, Tim Patrick, DaeSean Hamilton, Juwann Winfree, Tyrie Cleveland, Diontae Spencer, Trinity Benson, Fred Brown, Kendall Hinton
It was pretty shocking when the Broncos added K.J. Hamler out of Penn State in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft after going with Jeudy in the first round. Hamler gives the team elite-level speed to their offense and he could take the top off the defense regularly this season. He is mostly a slot receiver, playing 614 out of 694 snaps from that position for the Nittany Lions in 2019. Lock is going to find it difficult to overthrow Hamler because of that speed.
However, Lock needs to be on point with his passes as Hamler led the FBS in drops last year with 12. I believe that was due to his small catch radius rather than the rookie having bad hands. Hamler gives the team a speed slot and will work as the No. 3 receiver behind Sutton and Jeudy.
Tim Patrick has the natural talent to make plays in the NFL. He has struggled with injuries during his pro career since coming out of Utah as an undrafted free agent back in 2017. Patrick has a nice size/speed combination and plays with great body control to make difficult catches seem routine. He is fast in a straight line and can pull away from defenders deep. Patrick is not a sharp route-runner and may never be in his pro career. Instead, he’s the type of target who works hard to get open deep and can be used as a red-zone target due to his size, leaping ability and wingspan. If the Broncos want some size with three wide-receivers sets then perhaps Patrick could see the field opposite of Sutton with Jeudy in the slot.
DaeSean Hamilton was a third-round pick out of Penn State in the 2018 NFL Draft. Hamilton was supposed to be the Broncos successor to Emmanuel Sanders, but now he’s going to have a fight on his hands just to make the 53-man roster. Some wonder what happened, but the simple fact is that Hamilton doesn’t have enough juice to stick in the NFL. He is a superb route-runner, but he must be at full strength for that quality to come through. Instead, Hamilton has dealt with injuries and not looked like the player he was in college. Hamilton also had a difficult time with drops in 2019, and that has caused the team to go in a different direction.
I really liked the selection of Juwann Winfree when the Broncos drafted him in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft out of the University of Colorado. He has incredible athleticism, concentration and run-after-the-catch ability. Winfree shined at time in training camp as a rookie, but he barely saw the field in 2019. Instead, Winfree was a healthy scratch most weeks for the Broncos due to a lack of special teams ability. He was active at times for the Broncos in 2019, but recorded no stats while only playing 15 snaps during a three-game streak in the middle of the season. He is an intriguing developmental prospect but his path to the 53-man roster got more difficult when the Broncos selected three receivers in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Tyrie Cleveland was a part-time starter in college for the Florida Gators. The rookie seventh-round pick has a nice size/speed combination and can jump out of the gym (near 40-inch vertical). However, Cleveland had inconsistent hands and production during his time at Florida. Pro Football Focus charted him with as many drops (10) as broken tackles (10) in his four years with the Gators. He’s a deep threat who will have to show he can play special teams in order to make the 53-man roster as rookie with the Broncos.
Diontae Spencer has worked diligently to find a home in the NFL. Undrafted out of McNeese State in 2014, Spencer signed on with the Rams, but ended up in the Canadian Football League for four seasons. He began 2019 with the Steelers, but ended up in Denver, where he played as the team’s primary return man. He was mostly a special teams player, but Spencer did see the field for a few carries on jet sweeps and a small handful (8) of targets. His path to the final roster is once again on special teams but 2020 second-round pick K.J. Hamler might end up as the team’s primary return man. He is most certainly on the roster bubble in training camp.
Trinity Benson was added as a priority free agent after the 2019 NFL Draft by the Broncos. Coming out of East Central Oklahoma, Benson was on the NFL radar due to his incredible speed and quickness. Benson measures 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, and impressed scouts at his pro day with a 4.4 40-yard dash and a sub-6.9 second three-cone drill. He can work as a receiver or return man, and Benson even got a chance to get some carries on sweeps for East Central. He spent last year on Denver’s practice squad and should end up there again in 2020.
Fred Brown was undrafted out of Mississippi State in 2017 and bounced around the league to a few teams for a couple of years. Last year, Brown latched on with the Broncos, but did not make the 53-man roster. Instead, he was on the practice squad when the team called him up to the active roster in Week 4 of the 2019 season. Brown did get some playing time for the Broncos last year, mostly in the game against the Colts, where he played 46 snaps and was targeted twice. He ended the 2019 season with just two catches for 21 yards and is buried on the depth chart. Perhaps a spot on the practice squad is where Brown will find himself after training camp.
Kendall Hinton was a quarterback-turned-wide receiver during his college career at Wake Forest. He began his college career as a quarterback, but transitioned to receiver during his junior year, although Hinton did play a little quarterback after that here and there. He has the athleticism and toughness to be dangerous as a receiver, although Hinton is very raw because of his lack of experience. The Broncos could continue to develop him and that raw ability on the practice squad in 2020.
The Broncos identity in 2020 is going to be on offense. Specifically, the identity of this team from now and into the future could be Lock and this incredible corps or wide receivers. Sutton we already know can make plays at a high level, but if Jeudy plays up to his potential and Hamler comes through with his speed then Denver can be especially dangerous with their passing game.
After this season, the rest of the league may know what we are projecting here locally – the Broncos offense is one to be reckoned with. In fact, the Broncos may have the best trio of wide receivers in the league. If all are performing up to their best, this offense could be close to unstoppable.
The depth is good on this team behind the “big three,” but we may not see many of those players if everyone at the top of the depth chart stays healthy. The Broncos have drafted better over the last three seasons and this group of skill position players is proof of that. Like with everything the Broncos are doing in 2020, it all comes down to not only the wide receivers but mostly and mainly the play of Lock.
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