DENVER — Receivers excite people. They make great catches. Gain a lot of yards. Score touchdowns. They are such great athletes, perhaps the best on a team.
Exciting as the Broncos’ recent draft was through the first two rounds, though, the sobering reality is rookie receivers often struggle.
The Broncos’ all-time leading receiver, Rod Smith, spent his rookie year on the practice squad. Demaryius Thomas, the second-best receiver in Broncos’ history, had just 22 catches for 283 yards in his first season.
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Eric Decker had six catches for 106 yards his rookie year. Emmanuel Sanders had 28 catches for 376 yards in his first season with Pittsburgh. Beating bigger, physical, technique-sound cornerbacks off the line of scrimmage takes a while to figure out.
As Broncos rookies report to training camp with their new quarterbacks this Thursday, Question No. 8 in our 9-question series is:
Can Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler emerge into No. 2 and 3 receivers?
The No. 1 receiver, by the way, is Courtland Sutton. He broke the trend by having a good rookie year, catching 42 passes for 704 yards even though he was the No. 3 receiver behind Thomas and Sanders the first-half of the season.
Sutton became the Broncos’ go-to in his second season of 2019 when he finished with 72 catches for 1,112 yards despite having to work with three different quarterbacks.
Jeudy and Hamler will be expected to produce right away in 2020. Jeudy was the Broncos’ No. 15 overall pick in the first round out of Alabama. Hamler was the Broncos’ second-round selection out of Penn State.
It won’t be easy for either rookie as they missed valuable offseason team practice time because of the COVID-19 shutdown.
Jeudy appears to be pro-ready. He is already a precise route-runner. He’s not a burner in a 40-yard sprint in shorts, but in pads he separates. At Alabama, where he was one of three, first-round receivers – Henry Ruggs III went No. 12 overall to the Raiders and Devonta Smith figures to be the first receiver taken in the 2021 draft – Jeudy outproduced all of them.
In his sophomore and junior seasons for the Crimson Tide, Jeudy averaged 72.5 catches, 1,239 yards and 12 touchdowns.
He’s what they call a football rat – a player whose fun time is football whether on high school fields, the back alley or someone’s front yard. He’ll throw, kick, catch – anything to do with football. The Broncos need him to start on the other side of Sutton.
Hamler is the Broncos’ answer to the Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill. Hamler is a speed demon which means he’ll be counted on to break an explosive play every four or five games. He doesn’t have to get 5 catches a game to be effectives. Just come up with a big play that helps turn a game. And then have the safeties pay attention to him even when he doesn’t get the ball.
That’s the theory, anyway. The plan. DaeSean Hamilton and Tim Patrick had been the Broncos’ No. 2 or No. 3 receivers at times during the past two years. And because there wasn’t any offseason work to break in the rookies, the experience of Hamilton and Patrick can’t be counted out.
But if not right away, at some point in 2020 Jeudy and Hamler will be counted on to emerge as the top receiver threats alongside Sutton.