In the third of Thin Air’s series on previewing 2017’s training camp for the Broncos is a look at wide receivers.
This may be the only position group on offense in which there is established high level talent at the top of the depth chart. Nonetheless, beyond the starters there are plenty of questions to be had, along with plenty of competitors.
Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders
Not much needs to be said as to why these two are the clear starters in Denver. One aggravating factor is that both will be on the older side of 30 before 2017 ends. However, a mitigating factor for Thomas is that he is coming off a hip injury that he played through in 2016. Sanders, for his part, has said he’s cut fast food out of his diet.
An important key for the Broncos’ offense to take off under Mike McCoy in 2017 is the emergence of a #3 wide receiver. Since McCoy will likely be running out of 11 personnel more often than Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison would prefer, this position will be akin to a starter.
There’s a lot pressure for Henderson, a third round rookie, to take on that role. He showed some positive glimpses during OTAs. However, we’ll have to see how he handles getting the full playbook thrown at him in training camp. Even if he does light it up there and in preseason games, remember that it’s against reduced competition. Adjusting to the NFL life quickly is difficult. Only a few gifted players are able to do so. Patience should be exercises on Henderson or any other rookie.
Tempering expectations should also apply to McKenzie, and even more so given his base expectations at wide receiver are lower. However, this is offset by also having added expectations as being in the returner competition. A rookie can impact quicker at that position, among any on special teams. However, McKenzie still has to demonstrate the innate talent that it takes to be a consistent returner that can not only advance the ball, but also hang onto it.
Cody Latimer, Jordan Taylor, and Bennie Fowler
With the additions of Henderson and McKenzie in the draft, the incumbent backup receivers will now be in competition with each other for limited roster spots. If the two rookies both make the team, there may only be room for one of them.
Special teams contribution will be critical for this trio of veterans, and it’s a department that Latimer likely has the edge in. The Broncos may also see an advantage in Latimer entering a contract year. Most know that contract years sometimes motivate underachieving players to play up to their potential. If that happens with Latimer, the Broncos also pick up possible gains toward compensatory picks in 2019 should Latimer leave in free agency.
Both Taylor and Fowler have two or less accrued seasons, and each has only spent one season on the practice squad, so both should remain eligible to return to the practice squad if that’s an option the Broncos would like to use.
Kalif Raymond, Hunter Sharp, and Anthony Nash
Because the ability to return Taylor and/or Fowler to the practice squad should remain, this means even tougher competition for the bottom of the depth chart to even secure one of those ten practice squad positions. Any of these players can do it if they demonstrate some useful contribution at their position or special teams. But unlike with other offensive positions on the Broncos, the talent ahead of them is much better in quality and quantity.
UPDATE – 10 AM MT: The depth chart that I referenced did not have Marlon Brown listed for some reason, even though he’s obviously on the Broncos’ roster. Apologies for forgetting about him earlier. I would place Brown in the bottom group of the depth chart, and I would also add that he may be more of a Gary Kubiak guy due to their experience together in Baltimore.