A day-by-day Broncos player breakdown is something we've been doing since our days at BroncoTalk nearly a decade ago. This year the tradition continues as we look at the Denver Broncos roster heading into the 2015 season in our 90-in-90 series.
Name: Jeff Heuerman
Position: Tight end
Height: 6'5" Weight: 255
Age: 22 Experience: 0
College: Ohio State
Sadly, everything about this 90-in-90 is just a tease for next year since third-round draft pick Jeff Heuerman tore his ACL during the rookie minicamp earlier this spring and is out for the season.
But that won't stop us from considering what might have been with the hockey-turned-football player out of Ohio State who was considered the best blocking tight end in the 2015 NFL Draft Class and was so accurately dubbed the "anti-Julius Thomas" by Tim Lynch.
Though Broncos Country seemed a bit baffled at John Elway's choice in the third round, Heuerman is the epitome of a Gary Kubiak TE - good pass blocker, strong leader, smart player and, oh by the way, can catch the ball when called upon.
And anyone who knows anything about a Kubiak offense, knows he likes a lot of tight ends on the roster.
Heuerman also got an important nod from Peyton Manning right after his unfortunate injury.
"I'm not going to lie, losing Jeff, who I was looking forward to playing with, I think he was really going to be a contributor for us this year," Manning said in June. "I think it's definitely disappointing."
Disappointing no doubt to Heuerman as well, but the Florida native seems to be making good strides in his recovery while also finding the silver lining.
Taking advantage of the time away from the field, Heuerman has been busy studying more film and mastering the new offense.
"I was here that whole time in meetings learning everything, and if you want to take a positive out of the situation, that's one of the things you can do: sit back, learn the playbook for a year, learn everything and go from there," he said on denverbroncos.com.
And the tight end says his knee is coming along.
"Each day's a bigger step, which it kind of sounds corny and it kind of sounds like I'm just saying that, but it really is," Heuerman said, who was expecting to get back into the weight room the first week in July. "I'm getting my flexion back in my knee, bending it - getting a few degrees each day is exciting. That's kind of what I look forward to now - getting those few degrees in my knee and being able to walk and not limp."
When Broncos took Heuerman in the third round, Elway touted his athleticism, most notably his blocking ability - something the 6-foot-5 tight end no doubt learned to do in his early days slamming a puck while keeping guys skating full-speed from running into him.
As a senior tight end at Ohio State, Heuerman didn't catch as many passes as he might have liked (just 17 for 207 yards), especially after having a junior season in which he logged 26 catches for 466 yards. But not focusing on receiving so much allowed Heuerman to hone other skills - so he has no regrets.
"I didn't catch as many footballs as I wanted to, but we won a National Championship," Heuerman said. "I wouldn't change a single thing. Either way it worked out, and I got to do a lot of things, a lot of blocking, a lot of pass protecting, things that make you a well-rounded tight end."
And being well-rounded is Heuerman's goal as a tight end in the NFL.
"I'm a tight end that likes to do it all," he said. "I don't like not being able to do everything."
And Heuerman made a point to say he would be fine doing whatever he's asked, even if that means blocking more for Manning and Co. rather than catching the future Hall-of-Fame QB's passes.
"I know that I will go in and be the best possible tight end that I can be," Heuerman said. "I will be any type of tight end they ask me to be."
Following his draft to the Broncos, Pro Football Focus highlighted Heuerman's blocking ability too:
"He has the athleticism to threaten the seam, which is backed up by his testing numbers and a 17.9 yard per catch average in 2013, but that hasn't necessarily translated to route running yet. He certainly looks like a natural catcher - one who didn't drop a single pass last season and gained a first down or touchdown on 10 of his 17 receptions. What's most impressive about Heuerman is his blocking, where he graded very well on both screens and runs. Probably the best inline run blocker in this class, he routinely solo blocked opposing defensive ends and held his own."
Heuerman was expected to be a backup to Virgil Green and Owen Daniels this season but considered a contributor as a rookie. The coaches and fans will now have to wait until next season to see if the tight end can live up to the hype and find a place on the roster.
The obvious "bad" is that the 2015-16 Broncos will be without No. 82. But as the rookie gets the playbook down this year, he can also get a head start improving a few of his weaknesses, including his route-running ability and his not-too-impressive yards-after-catch.
According to his scouting report on NFL.com, Heuerman has weight-room strength, but it doesn't translate "at the point of attack." He has also struggled to get separation at the top of the route and "can be rag-dolled in pass protection."
Heuerman also had his first - and hopefully last - experience being reined in by Broncos PR earlier this summer when he tweeted a dig at ESPN for its choice to give Caitlyn Jenner the ESPY's Courage Award. Attempting to be funny, the tweet was removed less than 24 hours later and Heuerman replaced it with much more professional tweets regarding his belief in the U.S. Military's courage.
I have the utmost respect for our military risking their lives for our freedom. IMO they are the most courageous, not saying others aren't— Jeff Heuerman (@JHeuerman86) June 4, 2015
As a player who was recruited in part for his leadership on/off the field, I'm pretty confident there will be no more errant tweets.
Just before his injury, Heuerman talked about the difference in playing a college-style offense versus the pro-style.
"We were all signals in college and high school, so getting the huddle calls and stuff like that, just learning the pro-style offense, it's a little different than what we ran in college, so [I have] a lot of learning ahead," Heuerman noted, adding that he's cool with the huddling style. "Like I said, a lot of learning, but it's nice to get out there, run around and compete a little bit."
Heuerman pointed out it's also really nice to play football for a team that values tight ends so highly.
"Especially learning the playbook these last few days, tight ends are very active," Heuerman said. "As a tight end, that's what you want to do. There are a lot of tight ends here too, and I'm looking forward to learning from them and competing. So it'll be good."
Unfortunately, Heuerman and Broncos fans will have to wait for both.
Injury recovery is the top of the list for Heuerman this summer/fall, but that will be supplemented by mastering the playbook, so he can plug in next season ahead of where he left off all-too-early this season.