BRONCOS

The Broncos receiving corps is shockingly inexperienced

May 12, 2022, 6:36 AM
DENVER, COLORADO - AUGUST 28: Courtland Sutton #14 of the Denver Broncos celebrates with Tim Patric...
(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

Since the Denver Broncos’ seismic trade for quarterback Russell Wilson shook up the league in March, the expectations for the team have skyrocketed despite back-to-back seasons in the AFC West’s cellar.

The addition of Wilson — as well as a six-year long pursuit of the Kansas City Chiefs’ division crown — triggered an arms race in the already-competitive AFC West. Today, the division is arguably the strongest, top to bottom, that anyone’s seen since the NFL realigned to its current format 20 years ago.

Armed with a pair of future Hall-of-Famers in Denver’s Wilson and Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, to go along with a budding superstar in the Los Angeles Chargers’ Justin Herbert and the underrated play of three-time Pro Bowler Derek Carr of the Las Vegas Raiders, the wild West is expected to become a gunslinging, highlight-reel factory as the league’s evolution into a pass-first league continues unabated.

Those quarterbacks have to throw to somebody, however. While the Chiefs dealt speedster Tyreek Hill to Miami, the Raiders imported Davante Adams — Carr’s college teammate at Fresno State — from Green Bay. Each of the Broncos’ division rivals still sports one five-time-or-more Pro Bowler in its receiving ranks.

The Broncos have one Pro Bowl appearance — total — among its top seven receivers, but that isn’t going to blunt the bravado of third-year receiver K.J. Hamler; finally healthy after an ACL injury ended his 2021 season after only three games.

“I think we’re the best (receiving) corps in the league — hands down,” Hamler said. “Other people can say whatever they want, but that’s just my opinion. We’re going to do anything, everything, to work our asses off, get back on that field and show everybody what we can do.”

That’s exactly what Denver’s faithful expect. But bravado aside, the Broncos’ receiving group is almost shockingly inexperienced compared to their AFC West brethren. Looking at each of the teams’ top five wide receivers and top two tight ends as their depth charts project today is revealing — and, on the surface, at least, indicate that the Broncos have a lot of catching up to do.

Consider this: The Broncos’ combined 182 games of experience isn’t even half of the 400-plus that the Chiefs, Raiders and Chargers each possess. Their combined 502 catches comes up a whopping 810 short of the next-best Chargers unit. Looking at career yards and touchdowns, it’s even worse; their 7,071 combined yards and 34 career touchdown catches don’t even match the top single receiver on any of their division rivals (Travis Kelce, KC: 9,006/57; Davante Adams, LV: 8,121/73; Keenan Allen, LA: 8,535/48), let alone match up man-to-man.

It seems likely that Hamler was only referring to wide receivers, and possibly only including their top four, but the quartet of Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, Jerry Jeudy and Hamler (6,445 yards and 30 touchdowns in 147 games) don’t even match up with the Chiefs’ top four of Juju Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Mecole Hardman and rookie Skyy Moore, who, of course, has no NFL stats whatsoever — the Broncos still trail by 1,354 yards and 21 touchdowns, and that’s not including tight end Kelce, who’s Mahomes’ primary target.

No matter how you slice it, suggesting that the Broncos’ receiving group is the best in the AFC West borders on ridiculous, at least today. The raw talent, however, is there, and Wilson is certainly the kind of quarterback that may be able to unlock it, nurture it and develop it. But in the NFL, promise doesn’t put up points; touchdowns don’t come from talking.

Hamler’s bold statement may end up holding some truth in January, but not until they’ve done exactly what he suggested — “work our asses off, get back on that field and show everybody what we can do.” Until then, it’s all projection. Projection doesn’t earn playoff berths, however. Only production can do that, and if Wilson and the Broncos can get it, it’s likely that their long playoff drought will finally, thankfully, come to an end.

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The Broncos receiving corps is shockingly inexperienced