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Broncos roster review: wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland

Can the last receiver John Elway drafted break through in a crowded competition?

NFL: OCT 18 Broncos at Patriots
Athletic talent isn’t a question for the 2020 6th round pick.
Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With 15 receivers on the Broncos’ current roster and four expected locks in Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick, and K.J. Hamler, it looks like there will be 11 hopefuls fighting for their NFL lives with two, perhaps three roster spots up for grabs.

Can Tyrie Cleveland survive the cuts?

Tyrie Cleveland’s profile

Height: 6’2”
Weight: 209 lbs
Age: 23 years old
Experience: 2

He may have entered the NFL as a 7th round pick, but when Tyrie Cleveland chose the Florida Gators over hometown Houston in 2016, it was a pretty big deal. A four star recruit out of Texas, he was considered one of the four best receivers in the 2016 class.

Cleveland finished his freshman season with 14 catches for 298 catches and two touchdowns. It’s only fitting he didn’t finish with 297, as his 98-yard touchdown against LSU is the longest by a freshman in school history.

So how does someone as athletic as Cleveland fall into the 7th round? For starters, he finished his Gator career with just 79 receptions. The Athletic’s Dane Brugler noted how he played just a third of the offensive snaps his final year. He also ran into some trouble off the field, with an arrest for firing a BB gun in 2016 and a citation for becoming involved in an altercation that involved an Airsoft gun in 2018.

What saved Cleveland’s draft stock was his willingness to do the dirty work. The concerns over Cleveland’s route running and overall consistency did nothing to prevent him from becoming a core special teamer, and his physicality and speed caught the eye of John Elway.

Cleveland’s special teams work became his calling card to the NFL and no doubt helped him win a spot on the final roster out of camp. He saw just five offensive plays in his first NFL action, but played 50% of the special teams’ snaps in the week one loss to the Tennessee Titans.

Courtland Sutton’s return from injury pushed Cleveland off the gameday roster against the Pittsburgh Steelers the following week, but he saw the field against Tampa Bay and logged snaps in every contest until week 14 when he was deactivated due to an illness. After missing three weeks, the Broncos brought him back for the season finale against the Las Vegas Raiders and Cleveland finished strong with the first multi-catch game of his NFL career.

The Good

Without much in the way of production, Cleveland remains a relative unknown. The second year receiver brings an intriguing blend of size, strength, and straight line speed. He’s a good athlete with good quickness, explosiveness, and balance.

His last game against the Raiders offers a snapshot of his competitive toughness and how he can contribute to the offense as a tertiary receiver. He has to be respected downfield while also possessing the frame and wherewithal to be a factor in the cluttered areas underneath. If you add in the penalties he drew, Cleveland was targeted on seven third or fourth downs against the Raiders and converted on five plays. His first three catches really paint a promising outlook of what he could become going forward.

Facing 3rd and 10, the Broncos come out with trips left and Tyrie Cleveland works a deep out to the sideline. This was a common tactic for Pat Shurmur as a way to play into Drew Lock’s strengths, but relies asks the pass catcher to make a catch while keeping their feet inbounds. The rookie delivered.

With 11 yards to the sticks, the Broncos line up in a 2X2 set with Cleveland split out to the left. The Raiders threaten with six along the line before two bail into coverage at the snap. Fant occupies the slot underneath while Cleveland runs into vacant space on dig route. Lock waits for the break, which gives the defense time to break on the ball. No matter, Cleveland goes up and shields the catch from contact.

With five yards for a first down in the second quarter, Shurmur dials up a trips bunch to the right with Cleveland on the line of scrimmage. At the snap, everyone works inside except for Cleveland, who runs a curl at the sticks before accelerating away from the corner. Lock let it go before the break because he knew his receiver would make him right.

Cleveland had all of 72 offensive snaps during the 2021 season and finished with six catches on nine targets for 63 yards. It’s far too soon to say with any certainty if Cleveland can turn traits into consistent production as a receiver, but it’s hard to deny he has promise.

With Sutton, Jeudy, Patrick, and Hamler comfortably atop the Broncos’ current depth chart, there’s going to be limited opportunities for the remaining receivers to make plays, barring injury. Special teams play is going to go a long way towards determining who makes the roster. This should help Cleveland. He’s a capable returner who can also run down kicks and block gunners on punt return.

The Bad

For all of Cleveland’s straight line speed and leaping prowess, his agility looks adequate. There’s certainly a role for athletes like him on the Broncos’ offense, but he doesn’t look like an ideal fit for a true slot role and that makes it harder for him to standout in the competition on offense. When you consider that Sutton and Patrick are both ideal boundary guys while Jeudy can play inside/out, that may hurt his chances compared to guys like Kendall Hinton, Seth Williams, or Diontae Spencer.

It’s easy to say a young receiver will improve on his breaks, but Cleveland’s going to turn 24 in September and his route running has capped his role on offense every year dating back to 2016. He too often rounds his cuts and this makes it easier for a defender to react in time to contest the catch.

Cleveland has good play strength for a receiver and shows no qualms with mixing it up, but he needs to do a better job staying in front of his targets to become an effective blocker. I like his fight and reps should help him improve in this area, but it’s something that could definitely hurt him in the preseason.

Tyrie Cleveland’s roster status with the Broncos

It’s hard to say Cleveland’s in a good position with so much time and so many players fighting for as few as one roster spot. When I wrote my early roster prediction I gave him the nod, but the battles to fill out the receiving corps. looks wide open.