DENVER — When this roster evolution is complete, the Broncos will have a chance to become a receiver-dominant team again.
A bit younger than the Demaryius Thomas-Eric Decker-Brandon Stokley/Wes Welker trio in 2012-13. But for the first time since Peyton Manning enjoyed his pass-catching trio in the early part of his Broncos’ term, Denver has an electric set of receivers in Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler.
It’s a receiver group that has the potential to keep defensive coordinators up late.
“We have guys who can stretch the field vertically and that can take those safeties out of the boxes,’’ Sutton said this month in a Zoom media interview. “You make everyone pay respect to everybody on the field. It kind of makes all the defenses play their defenses and their schemes the right way. You’re not going to be able to cheat to one side. You’re not going to be able to load the box for the run game. You’re not going to be able to shade safeties over the top of certain places. We have speed and talent in all of our positions in our room.’’
They also have quarterback Drew Lock who has the type of arm talent that won’t let waste his receivers’ skills.
After Manning and his receivers set all the significant NFL single-season passing records in 2013, Broncos’ general manager John Elway shifted his talent to the other side of the ball. While the offense transitioned to a two-receiver set of Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, edge-rushing linebackers became the team’s most dominant position. Von Miller led this group that also featured DeMarcus Ware, first-round pick Shane Ray, Shaq Barrett and later Bradley Chubb.
Since their Super Bowl 50-winning season of 2015, though, the Broncos haven’t been able to keep up with the Kansas City Chiefs. The Broncos have lost 9 games in a row to the Chiefs, who have in turn won four consecutive AFC West titles.
In Patrick Mahomes’ 35 quarterback starts the past two seasons, the Chiefs have averaged 32.7 points. In that same span, the Broncos averaged 19.1 points in 32 games.
Basically, the Broncos have a two touchdown difference to make up.
And so the receiver Jeudy was taken in the first round and receiver Hamler was selected in the second round of last month’s draft.
Bring on the Chiefs. A look at the Broncos receivers for the 2020 season:
Coach: Zach Azzanni
A college receivers coach for 18 years before joined the Bears in 2017 and Broncos in 2018. His "tough love" gained the respect of Emmanuel Sanders two years ago, and Azzanni has been instrumental in the development of Sutton, who was raw coming out of SMU.
“It’s an underrated blessing for sure because when you’re learning a new offense, having some type of stability in that change is nice, especially someone that’s in your room who is the teacher of the new offense to us,'' Sutton said of having Azzanni help him work through his third offensive coordinator in three years. "He breaks down the small details. To be able to have him in our room, it’s pretty cool to keep him.”
Projected starters: Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy
Sutton is already a proven Pro Bowler as he heads into his third season. He was the team’s MVP last season when he had 72 catches for 1,112 yards and six touchdowns. And that was after he was double-teamed in the final six games.
Jeudy, who became the No. 15 overall draft pick after he averaged 72.5 receptions, 1,239 yards and 12 touchdowns the past two seasons for Alabama, gives Lock a strong No. 2 receiver.
No. 3 receiver: KJ Hamler
He has Tyreek Hill-like speed. Now Hamler has to come up with Tyreek Hill-like production. Hamler had too many drops at Penn State. But he also averaged 16.9 yards per catch while scoring 14 touchdowns in his two seasons for the Nittany Lions.
An ideal season for Hamler would be to have three big games that help the Broncos win, and then even if he has little production in the other games, the threat of his big-play ability would free up space for the likes of Sutton, Jeudy, tight end Noah Fant and running backs Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay.
No. 4, 5 and 6 receivers: DaeSean Hamilton, Tim Patrick, Juwann Winfree
After a strong finish to his rookie season in 2018, Hamilton dropped a touchdown pass in the season opener at Oakland and rarely saw the ball again until the final two games. He had 11 catches for 130 yards and 1 touchdown in those final two wins against Detroit and Oakland. He recorded just 17 catches and 167 yards with zero scores through the first 14 games.
Patrick was going to be the team’s No. 3 receiver last year until a broken hand in the season-opener at Oakland set him back. He’s a strong special teamer so he should wind up with a spot on the 53-man roster, although he’ll have to earn it with a strong training camp and preseason.
Winfree was a sixth-round selection from the University of Colorado last year who appeared in three games for special teams purposes last year.
Competing: Diontae Spencer, Fred Brown, Trinity Benson, Tyrie Cleveland, Kendall Hinton, Zimari Manning, Kelvin McKnight
Spencer has a good chance of keeping his returner role.
Brown played in 13 games but seldom as a receiver.
Cleveland was a 7th-round draft pick last year while Manning and Hinton got decent undrafted signing bonuses.
Benson and McKnight were undrafted rookies last year.
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