There’s a new level of excitement coming out of the Denver Broncos’ facility. It’s almost at tangible levels, and the team is feeling it.
Between a massive trade for QB Russell Wilson, the hiring of HC Nathaniel Hackett and his staff, and GM George Paton bringing in another talented class of rookies, the excitement is palpable and will only build as training camp continues.
A reason why so many are placing so many high expectations on the Broncos’ offense is because of the talent in their wide receiver room. With the main three of Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, and Tim Patrick, with plenty of talented depth and diverse skill sets behind them, it’s no wonder there is so much optimism behind the Broncos’ passing attack in 2022.
Courtland Sutton, No. 14
Report: The premier height/weight/speed receiver for the Broncos, there is plenty of intrigue and enthusiasm about Courtland Sutton’s role this season under Nathaniel Hackett with Russell Wilson under center. Sutton played the “X” role extensively under Denver outside for the last few seasons but has the skill set to move around in Hackett’s offense. Sutton assembled a quality resume of downfield ability, excellent hands (just one drop in 2021), route-running, and physicality last season, despite being mainly used on just a handful of the same routes (nines, curls, slants). He will have to improve in beating press coverage by expanding his releases and getting better at using his hands to shrug DBs off of his body. His run-blocking aptitude suggests a pathway into getting slot reps when the Broncos get into 11 personnel. This will also open up more free releases away from press coverage, and get him in space more often. Russell Wilson, when he targets the middle of the field, prefers bigger, more reliable targets, and Sutton fits that to a T. Sutton can eat up grass quickly with his speed, and could generate plenty of yards after the catch in this role as well. Another season of recovery post-ACL injury and an upgrade at QB should help Sutton reach his full potential and dramatically uptick his production.
Jerry Jeudy, No. 10
Report: Jerry Jeudy began drawing all the comparisons to Tyler Lockett as soon as the Russell Wilson trade went down, and it’s apropos to what Jeudy’s potential can be. Jeudy has flashed excellent separation ability, with great change-of-direction and an extensive release package versus press coverage. His hands improved in 2021, going from 12 drops as a rookie to just 2 in 2021 (how much of that had to do with the difference at QB, I will let the comments decide). Jeudy still hasn’t proven his reliability in contested situations and in catches of the middle of the field, which makes the previous staff’s insistence on him as a strictly slot receiver that much more baffling. He shined on deeper routes and his ability to separate downfield and beat press shows upside for Jeudy as an outside receiver instead of strictly inside in the slot. Jeudy has all the upside and talent to be the most dynamic player on the entire Broncos’ offense, and hopefully, he can unlock it all this season.
Tim Patrick, No. 81
Report: Tim Patrick is often thought of as the third-wheel in the Broncos’ wide receiver room, but that shouldn’t discredit him in any way. Patrick doesn’t offer much of his reliable hands and contested-catch ability, but he’s bailed the Broncos out of some tough situations repeatedly over the last four seasons, with 100 of his 143 career receptions going for first downs. Patrick has shown good physicality and has a bully-ball mentality with the ball in the air, but hasn’t shown the athleticism or route-running ability to grow his game beyond being a reliable possession receiver. Tim Patrick should still serve as an effective security blanket as the team’s WR3 this season, but as the offense moves to get faster, I wonder how long he’s meant for the roster.
KJ Hamler, No. 1
Report: The speedster in the Broncos’ wide receiver room, KJ Hamler is working back from a torn ACL he suffered in week 3 of last season. Hamler has easy speed and burst on the field to separate from defenders, and he truly glides on the field. Perhaps his most impressive trait is what he can do after the catch, shaking and baking around and speeding by defenders. Hamler is quick, but his routes lack tempo and he needs to be quicker through his breaks. I’d expect Hamler to receive plenty of manufactured touches (think sweeps, screens, touch passes) to help mitigate his tracking issues and poor hands and get him the ball quickly so he can do some damage. The Broncos will come up with plenty of creative ways to take advantage of his world-class speed, but how involved he’ll be this season will depend on his health and development.
Kendall Hinton, No. 9
Report: While Kendall Hinton is mostly remembered for his heroic efforts at QB during the COVID debacle on the team in 2020, his film at receiver in 2021 was quite good. Hinton’s route-running has improved since college, and he’s an easy separator because of it. His ability to sink and break through his routes is impressive and speaks volumes of his athleticism. Hinton displayed great ball tracking and attacking the ball out of the air. His frame isn’t conducive to contested situations, but he plays with good positioning and toughness that should be admired. Hinton should be secured as the WR5, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Broncos are tempted by a trade offer sent in by a WR-needy team this season like they were for Trinity Benson last preseason.
Montrell Washington, No. 12
Report: A bit of a stunner pick in the fifth round this year, Montrell Washington was a player many didn’t know about coming out of Samford. His film revealed a legitimate weapon, and Broncos coaches seem thrilled with his potential. Washington is a twitched-up athlete with speed to burn. His routes were snappy and well-executed as well, adding even more nuance to his game. I was pleasantly surprised by his ball skills and tracking, something that often isn’t seen in small-school speedsters. Washington flashed dangerous return ability, with five career touchdown returns. It’s hard to gauge this early on just how involved he’ll be in the offense, but much like Hamler, expect plenty of manufactured touches and motion to take advantage of his speed. Washington should also emerge as the primary returner and has the upside to out-produce his draft slot.
Seth Williams, No. 19
Report: One of Paton’s picks in the 2021 draft, Seth Williams had just one target on 49 snaps for the team last season, a 34-yard reception against the Chargers in Week 17. Williams didn’t play at all until that game. The small sample size we have of him in Denver makes it difficult to predict his viability in this offense or job security. He barely played on special teams when he was active as well, further muddying the picture. Williams is a red-zone threat with fantastic size and length. He displayed great body control and physicality in college, and out-muscled DBs before and after the catch. Williams is likely bound for the practice squad this season, but I expect him to be in the fight for the last WR spot.
Tyrie Cleveland, No. 16
Report: The last offensive player drafted by John Elway, Tyrie Cleveland was a former prized recruit but ended up with an inconsistent collegiate career that culminated with him being selected at the end of the seventh round in 2020. Cleveland is a solid athlete with good size. He hasn’t shown enough to be considered a roster lock, however. His game has been entirely reliant on his athleticism, and that’s not enough to play in an NFL offense. He’s been an effective punt gunner dating back to college, but he has to prove he has offensive upside if he wants to make the roster in a crowded wide receiver room.
Trey Quinn, No. 84
Report: A bit of a surprising signing given the talent in the receiver room, Trey Quinn was a seventh-round pick in 2018 by Washington before winding up with the Jacksonville Jaguars by 2020. Quinn didn’t play a snap in 2021 after a brief stint with the Las Vegas Raiders. Quinn is a slot-only receiver who is a solid jack-of-all-trades player. He’s not a great athlete, but his routes are clean and he’s shown reliable hands over his career. Quinn feels like a training camp body more than a legitimate roster threat, but he’s a worthwhile dart throw and someone to keep an eye on if injuries mount.
Travis Fulgham, No. 15
Report: Out of all of the bottom receivers fighting for a spot, Fulgham is the most proven after a productive 2020 season with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Broncos signed Fulgham last season, but he only ended up receiving just nine snaps. Fulgham has great size at 6’3 215 and he’s a surprisingly well-rounded route-runner for that size, but his drops and poor showing in contested situations limit his ability as a possession receiver. Fulgham also hasn’t shown the athleticism necessary to qualify for special teams. He’s another long shot to make the roster, but he’s worth the look at given his previous production in the NFL.
Jalen Virgil, No. 17
Report: One of the Broncos’ most prized UDFA targets this year, it’s easy to see why Jalen Virgil was so coveted by NFL teams. Virgil is a dynamite speedster who primarily made his mark as a returner in college. A multiple-time Feldman Freak and two-time All-Sun Belt returner, Virgil should be heavily involved in any special teams competition. While the Broncos’ offense certainly needs some juice, Virgil has yet to prove he can make it as an offensive player. His development as a route-runner will be one to watch and might be the difference between a spot on the 53 and a spot on the practice squad.
Brandon Johnson, No. 89
Report: Another UDFA wide receiver for the Broncos, Brandon Johnson strikes me as another Seth Williams type on the roster. Johnson has good size at 6’2 195, and he uses that size well, making some highlight-reel catches with ease. He’s demonstrated a good ability at attacking defenders’ leverage and attacks the ball in the air with good positioning and body control. He’s not a spectacular athlete and his routes are bland, but it’s hard to knock his production. Johnson is a likely practice squad candidate to keep in reserve.
Kaden Davis, No. 13
Report: Grading Kaden Davis’s film at NW Missouri State was a challenge because the vast majority of his production came from him just running past and away from defenders. It was obvious that the players he was facing just weren’t the same level of athlete. While the athleticism and production were certainly checking off box after box, the rest of his game felt like a question mark. His limited routes had some snappiness to them, but he was granted plenty of free releases out of the slot, and his method of dealing with press was to simply run by the defender. I’m not comfortable saying he’s ready to be in an NFL offense just yet, but he’s a dynamic stash and develop candidate for the practice squad. In a couple of years, Davis is an intriguing weapon with upside but doesn’t strike me as a roster threat in 2022.
The top four wide receiver spots of Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick, and KJ Hamler should all be locked in, and Montrell Washington feels like a lock for a roster spot as well given the teams’ comments about him. With teams typically keeping six wide receivers at most, that leaves Hinton, Cleveland, Williams, Virgil, Quinn, Johnson, Davis, and Fulgham left to battle it out for the WR6 spot, and it’s a battle that I feel comfortable giving the nod to Hinton in.
Obviously, the team won’t put all of Williams, Virgil, Johnson, and Davis on the practice squad, so the battle for a spot there between that group will certainly be one to keep an eye on.