BRONCOS

State of the Broncos: Can a talented wide receiver corps blossom in ’22?

Jan 20, 2022, 6:59 AM
(Graphic by Johnny Hart/Bonneville Denver)...
State of the Broncos

The Broncos finished the 2021 season with a 7-10 record. It was the team’s fifth-straight losing season. It also marked the sixth-consecutive year in which the franchise failed to make the playoffs.

As a result, Vic Fangio was shown the door. The head coach was 19-30 during his three seasons in Denver. A coaching change is on the way.

What will the new head coach inherit? What will his new staff have to work with in Denver?

The “State of the Broncos” series is a position-by-position look at what went well in 2021, what didn’t and what needs to change for ’22 and beyond. In this installment, it’s time to take a look at a position that was one of the most-disappointing in 2021 – wide receiver.

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Pro Football Focus Grades
Courtland Sutton – 71.2
Tim Patrick – 71.2
Jerry Jeudy – 68.7
K.J. Hamler – 65.4

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2021 Review

The Broncos have invested a lot in the wide receiver position in recent years. They spent a second-round pick on Courtland Sutton in 2018, a first-round selection on Jerry Jeudy in 2020 and a second-round choice on K.J. Hamler that same year. In addition, they forked over a ton of cash to Sutton and Tim Patrick this season, signing the duo to extensions totaling nearly $95 million.

Let’s just say they haven’t gotten a lot of bang for their buck.

In 2021, the Broncos wide receiver corps was mediocre. At best.

Sutton led the group in receptions with 58, as well as receiving yards with 776. Those aren’t terrible numbers considering the fact that he was coming back from a torn ACL that cost him nearly all of the 2020 season.

The fact that he bested Patrick, Jeudy and Hamler is disappointing, however. For a variety of reasons.

Patrick’s numbers were respectable, but not for a No. 2 receiver. On the season, he hauled in 53 catches for 734 yards. But toward the end of the year, his production waned, while dropped passes became an issue.

Jeudy’s production was not what most expected from the No. 15 overall pick in 2020. This season, he caught 38 passes for 467 yards. Amazingly, he failed to get into the end zone a single time. In part, this was because of injury, as Jeudy missed seven games with an ankle injury suffered in the season opener.

Speaking of injuries, Hamler’s season was also derailed early. In the team’s third game of the year, the speedster was lost for the season with a knee injury. He caught just five passes for 74 yards.

As a group, the Broncos top-four wide receivers only got into the end zone seven times. In a league built for offense, with prolific passing attacks all over, that’s just ridiculous anemic production.

Who’s to blame? Well, the answer will come in 2022.

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A Look Ahead

There aren’t a lot of decisions to be made at this position. The Broncos “big four” will be back in 2022.

Patrick and Sutton just signed extensions. Jeudy and Hamler are still on their rookie deals. So unless one is packaged into a trade for Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson or some other veteran quarterback, they’ll be on the roster next season.

Then, the question will become whether or not they can be more productive. And why they weren’t better in ’21.

A lot of the blame has to go to the Broncos quarterbacks. Teddy Bridgewater started 14 games and was the epitome of a game manager. Drew Lock started the other three and was clearly trying to avoid mistakes first and foremost.

That led to the Broncos receivers not receiving a ton of opportunities. But when they did come their way, there were far too many dropped passes. From Sutton to Patrick to Jeudy, drive-killing drops and would-be touchdowns bouncing off their pads seemed like a weekly occurrence.

That’s not on Bridgewater. That’s not on Lock. That has to improve in 2022.

In addition to improved QB play, the wideouts should be helped by a better offensive scheme. It’s fair to say that Pat Shurmur didn’t maximize their abilities. In part, that’s because of his QBs. It’s also because Vic Fangio wanted to play conservative football. But it’s also due to some horrific schemes and designs.

If Broncos Country never sees Jerry Jeudy running another fake jet sweep, they’ll be fine with that development. It’s a play that epitomizes wasted talent.

Whoever the Broncos new offensive coordinator is in 2022, and whichever quarterback lines up under center, they’ll have some good weapons to work with. At least on paper.

Denver has invested a lot in Sutton, Patrick, Jeudy and Hamler. Starting in 2022, they need to begin getting a return.

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