Broncos 2020 Training Camp Preview: Wide Receivers

As the Denver Broncos begin training camp, the team will have various wide receivers competing for a spot on the roster heading into 2020.

The Denver Broncos have embraced adding more wide receivers to the mix as the team hopes to increase their offensive production in 2020. Heading into training camp, the position room will look drastically different from last season after the Broncos overhauled the position this off-season by adding three rookies to the mix. The Broncos will be led by home-grown players who have grown into veterans, and they’ll be responsible for bringing the rookies up to speed. There will be several competitions to keep an eye on during training camp among the WR position as the Broncos look to kick off the 2020 season.

Who is expected to start at wide receiver for the Broncos in 2020?

The Broncos invested heavily in the WR position this off-season, which should lead to the starting cast looking very different from how it was in 2019. Outside of the Broncos number one WR, the position room will feature quite a lot of NFL inexperience.

Courtland Sutton is primed to become a superstar in 2020

Courtland Sutton’s development took a big step forward in 2019, following the trade of Broncos long-time veteran WR Emmanuel Sanders seven weeks into the season. He became the Broncos unquestioned No.1 receiver and recorded over 1,100 yards receiving and six touchdowns, despite catching passes from three different starting quarterbacks, two of which had never taken a regular-season snap before 2019.

Although the departure of Sanders gave Sutton a chance to shine, it left the Broncos offense with limited experience and depth to draw the defense’s attention away. As a result, Sutton’s numbers did start to tail off down the stretch, going from an average Offensive Share Metric (OSM) score of 34.79 in the first half of the season to an average OSM score of 27.19 in the second half.

With a more talented supporting cast of Broncos wide receivers in 2020, and an improved and more stable situation at quarterback as Drew Lock enters his second season, Sutton is primed to take that next leap in his development towards becoming a superstar in the NFL.

Jerry Jeudy will hit the ground running as a rookie

As the Broncos first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Jerry Jeudy will be the team’s unquestioned starter next to Sutton at the WR position in 2020. This year’s training camp will be especially crucial to Denver’s rookie class, considering the lack of padded practices and the complete absence of preseason games. Still, training camp will be less critical to Jeudy than for some of his rookie peers.

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Considering the lack of competition for the Broncos at the second WR position on the depth chart, and Jeudy’s pro-caliber skillset and football intelligence, he should be able to become a near-instant contributor for Denver’s offense. His polished route-running and knowledge of how to set up defenders with his textbook arsenal of releases off the line of scrimmage will instantly make him one of Lock’s favorite targets on third down.

The biggest question for the Broncos regarding Jeudy as he enters his first-ever NFL training camp is whether he’ll operate best in the slot, on the perimeter, or have the freedom to line him up anywhere on the field. Jeudy thrived in both of those roles at Alabama, so the answer is unlikely to impact his snap count too much, but it should play a factor in who starts alongside him and Sutton, and what the rotation looks like for the Broncos at the WR position in 2020.

Tim Patrick is the slight favorite to start next to Jeudy and Sutton

The Broncos’ decision to bring in offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, means that the team will primarily line up in 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end) which will also place three wide receivers out on the field.

Considering Sutton and Jeudy already have the No. 1 and No. 2 WR spots on the depth chart respectively locked down, the battle to become Denver’s No. 3 WR will become one of the team’s most contested competitions on the offensive side of the ball.

Both Tim Patrick and DaeSean Hamilton should see snaps in this role as the 2020 season wears on. Still, Patrick should see the majority share of opportunities in that role, as his talent and skillset provides the Broncos with a better fit alongside Sutton and Jeudy.

Through his first two seasons with the Broncos, Patrick has had moments where he demonstrated the capability to be a starting-caliber wide-out, but injuries have prevented him from seizing that job. If he can stay healthy in 2020, he projects to be a sizeable red-zone target at 6’4 and potentially a possession receiver that can serve as a strong complement to the skillsets of both Sutton and Jeudy.

Who will the Broncos’ rotational receivers be?

The players that end up in a rotational role for the Broncos at WR will play a significant role on both offense and special teams, due to the depth at the position. On the roster, Denver’s choices at WR now extends to five deep in terms of starting-caliber talent, which makes the competition inside the position group much more meaningful than most people are discussing.

DaeSean Hamilton could still steal a starting job

Patrick is the favorite to be Denver’s third starting wide receiver next to Jeudy and Sutton, but Hamilton could still earn that job. He’ll enter the season as one of the Broncos with the most to prove, but has a lot of momentum on his side from the end of last season.

Once Lock entered the lineup, Hamilton’s offensive production increased. He went from averaging one reception for 9.64 yards per game, through the first 11 weeks of the season, to averaging 3.4 receptions for 38.2 yards per game, and scored his lone touchdown of the season with Lock at quarterback. He was impressive for the Broncos down the stretch last season, earning a higher Offensive Share Metric score on the year (31.13) than Sutton (30.68).

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Whether or not he earns the position of becoming the Broncos third receiver will come down to which version of Hamilton shows up in training camp in 2020. Will the Broncos get the Hamilton that was red-hot in the final quarter of each of his first two seasons in the league, or will they get the version that was almost a non-factor for the first 12 weeks of each of those two seasons?

If the Broncos get the former, there’s a good chance Hamilton winds up starting instead of Patrick, but if they get the latter, Hamilton could find himself behind K.J. Hamler in Denver’s rotation at WR.

K.J. Hamler’s speed will make everything easier for Denver’s offense

Hamler, developmentally, is the projected third WR for the Broncos in the future, but it would be surprising if he earned the starting job in training camp as a rookie, especially considering the off-season obstacles which should make his transition from college to the pros much more difficult.

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Even if Hamler isn’t starting right away, he should be able to see the field plenty given his on-field traits. Hamler’s speed and route running will help open up Denver’s offense and should help make everyone’s job easier. Because Hamler is a threat to score from anywhere on the field, he affects what coverages the defense can run, how many men they can have in the box, and how large of an area each zone defender is responsible for covering. That means more lanes in the running game and bigger holes can be potentially exploited by Lock and the passing game.

Tyrie Cleveland will have an immediate impact on special teams

Cleveland has little to no chance of unseating any of the five receivers listed before him, but he will find himself in competition for a spot on the active roster as a late seventh-round pick.

With his 6-foot-2 frame and sub-4.5 40-yard dash time, Cleveland offers the Broncos upside as a developmental deep threat, but it’s unlikely he would see the field much on offense in 2020, barring injury. Instead, the Broncos will likely look to utilize him as a gunner on special teams, where he thrived for the Gators during his time in Gainesville, and potentially as a return option.

The decision for the Broncos on whether or not he makes the final roster will likely come down to if they believe his value as a gunner and developmental boundary receiver is greater than the value that Diontae Spencer offers the team as a returner.

Who is on the outside looking in for 2020 among the Broncos wide receivers?

The first five spots on the Broncos depth chart at WR look to be fairly well set in terms of the personnel. That leaves a number of players fighting for a spot on the back-end of the roster, but they’ll also be looking to be included on the expanded practice squad, which could let two more pass catchers stick around in Denver.

Diontae Spencer offers a lot in the return game

Outside of his sheer speed, Spencer doesn’t offer much to the Broncos offensively, but he was one of their most valuable pieces on special teams in 2020. He earned the nod to go to the Pro Bowl as an alternate returner last season, which will be hard for Denver to replace. However, Broncos second-round pick Hamler does have prior experience as a returner, and enough speed to give Spencer a run for his money.

Is Juwann Winfree worth the gamble?

The Broncos traded up to select Winfree in the sixth round of last year’s draft because of the developmental flashes he displayed while with the Colorado Buffaloes in college. Unfortunately, Winfree has not been able to reach that potential in the NFL just yet because of injuries. The fact that he was often unable to get on the field for Denver last season, even on special teams, doesn’t bode well for his hopes of making the team’s final roster.

Can Fred Brown sneak onto the final roster again?

As injuries ate away at the depth of an already shallow receiving core for the Broncos last season, Brown was promoted to the active roster and caught two passes. Unfortunately for him, the off-season addition of three rookie receivers presents Brown with a steep uphill climb to make the final roster. His best chance of hanging on is to find a role as a gunner and be more impressive in that role than both Winfree and Cleveland.

Trinity Benson will have to find a role on special teams

Benson nearly found his way onto the roster last season as a special-teamer after an impressive showing at training camp. However, considering the team’s depth at the position, it’s hard to envision how he makes the roster this season, now that he’s competing against a much more talented group of players.

Kendall Hinton has rare athleticism and plenty of upside

Hinton, an undrafted rookie out of Wake Forest, has a good shot at making the Broncos practice squad considering how special of an athlete he is and how much developmental upside he possesses. Considering how 2020 would mark just his second season at WR, with his athleticism and growth displayed in learning the slot position, he does have a chance to sneak onto the roster, despite spending his first four college seasons as a quarterback. However, considering the NFL’s removal of the preseason, his chances of making the final roster will be difficult.

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