One of the most exciting battles to monitor in camp is going to come from Joe Flacco’s young receiving corps - including tight ends - as veteran speedster Emmanuel Sanders takes it slow in July to aim for a hot start in the fall.
Discussing this on Broncos TV, Andrew Mason and Steve Atwater believe the guys filling Sanders’ shoes in the meantime have high potential, but there are still a lot of question marks as Courtland Sutton, DaeSean Hamilton, Tim Patrick and even Noah Fant try to prove their worth with or without No. 10 on the field.
See our new video discussing the @Broncos WR corps led by Emmanuel Sanders & Courtland Sutton... full of potential https://t.co/oY4BZyaD9N via @YouTube— Steve Atwater (@SteveAtwater27) July 14, 2019
“We saw what life looked like without Emmanuel Sanders in those last four games of 2018, and it wasn’t good,” Mason said, pointing out that Sutton struggled many times as WR#1 and although Hamilton and Patrick made some plays, they were too inconsistent to give fans a ton of confidence right now. “The offense, in terms of a vertical threat, really ground to a halt [without Sanders.] You’re counting on another offseason of work helping Tim Patrick, Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton. Counting on them making the leap. Oftentimes that comes from year one to year two. I’m excited about possibilities, but right now there are still a lot of questions.”
If Sanders is not playing Week 1, Sutton will have to take that No. 1 spot whether he’s ready or not, Atwater pointed out. But the Ring-of-Famer believes Sutton has the talent to do it.
“I think he will be ready for it,” Atwater said. “His work ethic, his passion for the game of football leads me to believe he’ll put the work in. I’m anxious to see what these guys can look like in a brand new system that has proven with other players that it can put points on the board. I think Sutton is up for the task.”
Second-year receiver Hamilton also has a tall order for improvement, mainly in being consistent with his play-making ability.
Mason thinks a lot of reps and building his timing with Flacco are the keys to Hamilton making that jump this season.
“He showed some signs that he could be that underneath safety valve type of threat,” Mason said. “You want him to improve that yardage per catch ability. We know he’s a good route runner, he knows how to get open underneath to exploit gaps in coverage. We want to see him do that more consistently.”
ESPN’s Mike Clay actually predicts that Hamilton will lead the Broncos in receptions this season, Mase added that it “would not surprise” him.
But of course most eyes will be paying attention to first-round draft pick Noah Fant.
Not just because of his first-round designation but mostly because everyone knows how much Flacco likes to go to tight ends.
Atwater pointed out that whether Fant is starting Week 1 has a lot to do with picking up the offense and being comfortable playing against NFL-caliber defenders now, but with a healthy (knock on wood, now!) tight end corps, Fant has a little pressure off to be No. 1 right away.
“Not as much pressure for him to be a superstar from the start, but when all is said and done, the tight end room will be one of our strong points,” Atwater added.
Mase also noted that Flacco, who has always utilized his tight ends early and often, did the same with rookie tight end Mark Andrews out of Oklahoma last year in Baltimore.
“If Noah Fant gets good timing with Joe Flacco right away, those early games could look a lot like Flacco’s games in Baltimore last year,” Mason said.
The X-factor will be Sanders and his health, and both Mason and Atwater want the Broncos’ staff to go easy getting No. 10 back on the field.
“Sanders is certainly targeting Week 1, and progress has been outstanding, but sometimes you have to save the player from himself ... and if you have to, play with him being limited early on,” Mason said. “The goal is to make sure Sanders is healthy, available and back to full speed because the Broncos need that vertical speed.”
Atwater hopes to see Sanders on the field against the Raiders Week 1, but he’s more interested in having Sanders available on the field against the Raiders in Week 17.
“I hope he’s ready, but I don’t want them to take any chance if there are any question marks,” Atwater said. “I don’t mind him waiting four to six weeks to make sure he’s there especially at the end of the season.”
Will the sophomore receivers make the big jump in year two?
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Who cares if they can/will; they better!!