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New mentality, increased maturity has WR Juwann Winfree ready to prove why Broncos drafted him

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — An NFL roster churns quickly.

Just over a year ago, the Broncos traded up to select Colorado wide receiver Juwann Winfree in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Winfree battled injuries and transferred several times during his college career, but he was a talented prospect who was a sure bet to make the Broncos' roster.

As Denver heads into training camp this season, Winfree's future seems less certain. The Broncos drafted Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler in the first two rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft, and they added Florida's Tyrie Cleveland in the seventh round.

Winfree now finds himself competing with players like Cleveland, DaeSean Hamilton, Tim Patrick and Diontae Spencer to earn a roster spot — and he's eager to prove his worth after a rookie season in which he appeared in just three games and played 14 total offensive snaps.

"After the season last year, we already kind of said we were probably going to get some more weapons to build around Drew [Lock]," Winfree told on Wednesday. "Going into the offseason, I was already expecting that. It's a business. You've just got to put your best foot forward and show why you deserve to be here. That's the kind of approach I took. It's business; it's not personal.

"I'm just going to show why they made the right decision on drafting me last year."

Perhaps the most-encouraging sign that the Broncos could be getting a new Juwann Winfree in 2020 has nothing to do with his on-field play.

While Winfree's rookie season gave him valuable experience and reps, he realized following the season that marked improvement would begin with an adjusted mentality and increased maturity.

"[I've learned] the type of accountability you need to have as an NFL wide receiver," Winfree said. "I didn't do the best job of that last year. I wasn't the most accountable last year, and I felt like that's the main thing I [focused] on this offseason. … You've got to be able to play all positions, and they've got to be able to count on you. … The only way you're going to be able to step up and make a name in this league is showing that you're accountable and showing that you can be that guy. That's kind of where I wanted to take that next step this year."

Winfree said he struggled a bit as rookie to meet the day-in, day-out demands of the NFL, but he now believes he's better poised to find success. The 23-year-old said his inner transformation began this offseason as he hired a mental coach to help him shift his mindset.

"[It was] just fixing the way I think and trying to find ways to motivate me and bring that dog out on the field at all times," Winfree said.

Winfree said he also employed a private chef to help enhance his diet and improve his body. He enters training camp down about eight pounds from the 2019 season.

"I just want to be more reliable out there," Winfree said. "[I want to] be able to run all day, be able to make contested catches all day [and] be able to win against man coverage all day. You've got to be in the best shape possible; that's kind of one of the things I took [seriously]."

If Winfree can channel his new attitude into a successful training camp, he could push for a roster spot despite the crowded position group. At Colorado, Winfree displayed an innate ability to make contested catches, and he was also impressive after the catch. In the 2019 Hall of Fame game, Winfree caught a deflected fourth-down pass in the end zone to give Denver a late win.

Winfree said he also knows his special teams contributions will play a big role in his ability to make the roster. He played at least 50 percent of the team's special teams snaps in all three games in which he appeared as a rookie.

His play-making ability and versatility, though, is what Winfree thinks could earn him a spot in the team's new-look receiving corps.

"I have way more confidence this year," Winfree said. "… I know what I can bring to the table: contested catches [and] play-making ability, whether it's on the inside, outside [or] special teams. I just want to contribute making plays, because I feel I can. 

"… The key for me, is just showing accountability — me knowing my plays, me knowing they can count on me to be in the right place at the right time. That's what it's about this training camp. Whoever is the most accountable, whoever's making the most plays is going to stay. That's all it is."

The increased sense of competition won't bother Winfree, who said he likes the feeling of having to bring his best each day. 

"I think that's helped motivate me throughout this offseason — as well as the time we've been here so far — just knowing that I'm overlooked," Winfree said. "I thrive off that." 

The competition behind Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy will unfold over the coming weeks, but Winfree said he's grateful for the opportunity simply to compete. A year removed from his rookie season, he's gained that bit of perspective.

"Knowing that your spot is not 100 percent guaranteed even going into Year 2 and even being a draft pick, that helped me appreciate it," Winfree said. "Me being on the edge of the roster, that motivates me and it's something I appreciate. It can go one of two ways, but at the end of the day, I'm going to give it all I got, and I know God has me. I try not to worry about it."

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