As the 2021 offseason winds down and training camp approaches, we're turning our attention toward the season. Over the following few weeks, we'll take a look at each of the position groups on the Broncos' roster before finishing our training camp preview series with a look at some of the top questions facing the team. In our look at each position, we'll fill you in on what we know about the group and what we hope to find out during training camp. We'll also identify a player to keep an eye on when practices and the preseason get underway shortly. We continue the series with a look at the wide receiver room.
What we know:
The Broncos' wide receiving corps may not have realized its full potential in 2020. Pro Bowler Courtland Sutton missed the first game with a shoulder injury and proceeded to suffer a torn ACL in Week 2 in Pittsburgh. First-round pick Jerry Jeudy was thrust into the No. 1 role earlier than expected, and while he posted a respectable 856 yards and three touchdowns, a few ill-timed drops prevented his rookie year from being truly special. Second-round pick KJ Hamler made an impact in bursts, but injuries prevented him from being a more consistent force.
Perhaps only Tim Patrick exceeded expectations in 2020, as he shattered his previous career highs en route to 51 catches for 742 yards and a team-high six receiving touchdowns.
As the Broncos turn their attention to 2021, they'll largely run things back with the same group in hopes that the team can improve its fortunes. Sutton is on track to return soon, and Jeudy has spoken at length about the work he's put in to eliminate drops. Hamler is back for Year 2, while Patrick returned after the team tendered him at a second-round level. Denver's lone major addition to the group was to add Auburn wide receiver Seth Williams in the sixth round. If he contributes, it will likely be on special teams.
What we need to learn:
In 2019, Sutton was one of the top receivers in the NFL as he caught 72 passes for 1,112 yards and six touchdowns and earned his first career Pro Bowl selection. A year later, his season was over before it ever really began. As training camp begins, all eyes will be on where Sutton is in his recovery process.
Head Coach Vic Fangio said at the end of the offseason that he does not expect Sutton to begin the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list, but it will be worth monitoring how the team works him into 11-on-11 action and how much run he gets during preseason games. Being ready for Week 1 should be the ultimate goal, as the Broncos could have one of the best wide receiving duos in the league if Sutton can return to his pre-injury form.
As Sutton aims to regain his explosiveness and prepares for Year 4, he has his sights set higher than his 2019 output.
"I don't see myself coming back and having any setbacks, any hiccups or anything that I'll say, 'I can't do that in my game anymore,'" Sutton said in late May. "I've been working my butt off in rehab and really attacking it so I can come back and not just be at the standard that I was before I got hurt. I'm trying to exceed that even more so. I don't see myself coming back and losing any of those things that I was able to do. If anything, we're going to be adding to that."
In addition to Sutton, it's also worth keeping an eye on the back end of the roster. Sutton, Jeudy, Patrick and Hamler should be guaranteed roster spots, and Diontae Spencer likely has the inside track to one because of his prowess as a returner. That leaves one or two spots for a slew of players that includes Williams, Tyrie Cleveland, Kendall Hinton and several other players. As Denver approaches training camp, the team currently has 15 wide receivers on its roster with only six or seven likely to make the team.
Player to watch:
Sutton and Jeudy are former high draft picks who have already flashed elite talent, while Patrick demonstrated his ability when he received an increased workload in 2020. Denver's 2020 second-round pick, though, is still working to prove he can be a consistent contributor.
Hamler made plenty of big plays as a rookie — his game-winning touchdown against the Chargers and two long touchdowns against the Panthers come to mind — but he only recorded more than three catches in threegames last season. Hamler essentially missed five games due to various injuries — he started against the Jets and Chargers but exited early in the contests — and was held out of part of the offseason program with a hamstring injury.
The 5-foot-9, 178-pound player has blazing speed and an impressive ability to make contested catches, but he'll aim to show in training camp that he can remain available and a consistent threat on offense. If the team can involve him in the gameplan each week, the team will gain a multitude of options on offense.