TRAINING CAMP 2022

The Broncos don’t have to hit the market to replace Tim Patrick

Aug 3, 2022, 1:27 AM | Updated: 1:39 am
Jerry Jeudy...
(Photo by Andrew Mason / DenverFan.com)
(Photo by Andrew Mason / DenverFan.com)

The only solace the Broncos can take from Tim Patrick’s season-ending torn ACL is this: He’s part of one of the deepest positions on the roster.

And that means the Broncos don’t have to make a panic buy on the open market. They don’t need to blast through their roughly $9.4 million of cap space for this year — space that they could use to patch other holes as they happen throughout the year, and that they can carry over to future years when their QB chews up a higher percentage of the salary cap.

They’ve already made the massive investment: $34.9 million guaranteed to Courtland Sutton and first- and second-round choices on Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler, respectively. It’s time to find out if they invested wisely.

Yes, replacing a receiver with one of the best drop rates in the NFL will be difficult. In the last two seasons, he dropped just three of 107 catchable passes, per SportRadar — a rate of one every 35.7 opportunities.

Compare that with the Broncos’ top three receivers who remain:

  • Sutton: 1 drop every 16.3 opportunities
  • Jeudy: 1 drop every 9.2 opportunities
  • Hamler: 1 drop every 5.4 opportunities

But remember, Jeudy improved drastically from 2020 to 2021. His drop rate went from one every 6.2 catchable passes as a rookie to one every 39 chances last year. In fact, in 2021 alone, he had a better drop rate than Patrick, who dropped three of 56 catchable passes — 1 every 18.7 — last year.

When it comes to sure hands, the Broncos need Jeudy to be his second-year self. And that’s where replacing Patrick begins.

1. JERRY JEUDY, IT’S YOUR TIME

Much is on the line for Jeudy in 2022. The Broncos must make a decision on his fifth-year option next offseason. A year from now, Patrick will be back, and he’ll have designs on reclaiming his prominent spot in the offense.

This is Jeudy’s put-up-or-shut-up year.

Year 3 tends to be that for most young players, regardless. But for Jeudy, whose potential flashes often enough to remind you of why he was the No. 15 pick in 2020, it’s more than just the fork in the road. It’s an opportunity to work with a quarterback who far exceeds anything he’s known as a pro. Excuses won’t be acceptable.

So far in training camp, Wilson has involved Jeudy in the offense. After a rough first day, the results have been promising. And Jeudy gets open, despite the palpable proficiency of the Broncos’ secondary.

If Jeudy is who the Broncos drafted him to be, the Broncos can withstand Patrick’s torn ACL.

2. KJ HAMLER, YOU TOO

But the Broncos will be deliberate with Hamler as they work him into the lineup. As dynamic as the third-year veteran can be, they don’t want to risk a setback as they work him back into game shape. With Patrick out and Jeudy moving into an every-down role, Hamler could settle as the No. 3 receiver, working in the slot.

Most slot receivers bring quickness, but Hamler carries blazing vertical speed, too. If he runs post routes from the slot, he’ll occupy the attention of safeties, further opening one-on-one chances for Jeudy and Sutton on the outside.

However, the Broncos can’t rush him back to a full workload. If having Hamler available all season means limiting him to, say, 15 snaps in Week 1, so be it. The long game is the right one to play.

3. KENDALL HINTON: ALWAYS THERE

And if the Broncos choose a gradual ramp-up for Hamler, the versatile Hinton is best positioned to fill the gap after his work last year. He doesn’t have Hamler’s speed or the size of Sutton and Jeudy.

That’s why he’s likely a No. 4 option. But he runs crisp routes, he’s diligent and showed signs during OTAs of being a trusted target for Wilson. His skill set is different than that of Patrick, but his path is similar; he’s taken the rough route to earn his role.

4. MONTRELL WASHINGTON AND SETH WILLIAMS HAVE CHANCES TO IMPRESS

With Tyrie Cleveland temporarily out after taking a shot to the throat on Monday, Washington and Williams should have plenty of reps in the coming days. Washington appears set for a spot on the 53-man roster given his likelihood of winning the returner battle, but he has also emerged as a reliable deep threat with the reserves — and a favored teammate of Wilson’s.

“He is a guy that Russell has latched on to and really tried to push with the rookies being around here,” Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett said. “[He’s] just trying to grow because it is so different, coming from where he’s been. He’s grasping a lot and he’s made a bunch of good plays around here.”

The domino effect will ensure that Travis Fulgham, Kaden Davis, Trey Quinn, Jalen Virgil and Brandon Johnson also get more repetitions. Davis had a 47-yard catch down the right sideline in move-the-ball work Wednesday. Johnson has shown glimpses of being a dynamic playmaker. Fulgham flashed during OTAs and will get more chances now. And Virgil had a 60-yard, one-handed grab last week.

“It’s going to be an opportunity for all of those guys to step up, make a name for themselves, be able to go out there and give themselves an opportunity to get some more reps,” Sutton said.

5. MORE TWO-TIGHT END FORMATIONS?

Hackett hasn’t been shy about making ample use of his tight ends so far in camp. Further, Wilson hasn’t been reluctant to target them. During Tuesday’s practice alone, Eric Saubert, Albert Okwuegbunam and Andrew Beck all had catches that would have likely been double-digit gains in game conditions.

Rookie Greg Dulcich continues to move closer to team-period reps; he has two days of individual work under his belt this week. But as Hackett noted Monday, the nature of hamstring injuries means the Broncos will remain cautious.

With that, plus the jigsaw-puzzle nature of the Broncos’ tight-end complement, the slack that the tight ends pick up will be very much out of “Moneyball” — helping to create in the aggregate.

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