The Denver Broncos were in the middle of a highly publicized quarterback competition, and rightly so, but there are other camp battles that will have important implications towards the team’s success in 2021.
Sure, eyes and Twitter fingers were glued to the Drew Lock-Teddy Bridgewater soap opera, and the right tackle competition has notoriously given Broncos Country the shakes in recent years, but fans should also be aware of what’s happening in the wide receiver room.
The ever-dependable veteran Tim Patrick and the explosive second-year K.J. Hamler will be battling for touches as the WR3. And while that may not be the “sexy” discussion, it’s paramount to the Broncos’ success. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is a big proponent of three-wide sets. And WR1 Courtland Sutton has yet to play a significant down since tearing his ACL in a Week 2 loss at Pittsburgh in 2020, which means the need for either Patrick or Hamler to step up is even more pivotal.
Follow the Heavy on Broncos Facebook page for the latest breaking news, rumors and content!
Patrick’s Hands Are Legendary
Should Sutton not be THE Courtland Sutton any time soon, or worse, get re-injured, guys behind him on the depth chart need to be ready to contribute larger roles. Patrick had a taste of that last season, when he essentially became the de facto WR1, as rookie Jerry Jeudy was learning on the job. All things considered, Patrick had a stellar 2020 campaign, as he netted a career-high 51 catches for 742 yards and six touchdowns. Oh, and to further impress, Patrick, who was an undrafted college free agent in 2017 and is now on his third squad, did not register a single drop last season. Not. One. Single. Drop.
Hamler, meanwhile, was dealing with soft-tissue issues for most of the season and could only muster 30 receptions for 381 yards and three touchdowns — with most of that production coming in a Week 14 win at Carolina, in 2020.
The case for Hamler, however, is that his athletic ability and next-level breakaway speed is intoxicating. Neither head coach nor Shurmur can afford to keep the speedy Hamler locked away in the garage. The coaches need to act like Ferris Bueller and take that 5-foot-9 Ferrari out for a spin.
Sure, there is more invested in Hamler, who is not only set to earn $934,415 in base salary, but he was also a second-round pick in the 2020 draft. That’s good value for a guy with tons of upside. Patrick, however, also brings value to the Broncos. So much so that the team placed a second-round restricted free-agent tender on him, valued at one-year, $3.3 million for the 2021 season.
The Broncos don’t seem ready yet to let him walk away for nothing. And while Patrick has been nursing a groin injury in recent weeks, according to Fangio, it’s “nothing serious” and the team is just “taking the precautions,” which means all signs still point to him being ready for the opener at the New York Giants on September 12.
Fangio Needs a Win
Tabbing a reliable WR3 should be of high importance for a guy like Fangio, who desperately needs a fast start to the season.
Of course, Shurmur will get creative and use four-wide formations when it calls, meaning the Broncos will have an embarrassment of riches on the field at once. But if it comes down to touches and reliability, for a coaching staff that is on the hot seat, smart money says they’ll call the sure-handed No. 81’s name more than the sleek-looking guy in the No. 1 jersey.
Both are fantastic targets. Both will be relied upon. And both are poised for breakout campaigns. Fangio thinks Hamler can be effective in 2021.
“He’s a fast, quick guy who’s hard to cover, and hopefully we can keep him healthy,” Fangio said following Hamler’s preseason breakout game against the Minnesota Vikings, where the wideout burned the secondary for 105 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown. “He can be a big part of our offense.”
But if asked to pick a winner in the WR3 derby, Patrick seemingly – and should – have the leg up in the conversation.