Now that new Denver Broncos’ GM George Paton has moved deep into the process of familiarizing himself with the current roster as a whole and identifying key free agents, it's a good time to make the case for Paton retaining Tim Patrick in free agency.
Patrick is a restricted free agent, so he can’t really go anywhere unless the Broncos renounce his rights. Knowing that, it’s still exceptionally important for Paton to retain a key offensive weapon to pair with Drew Lock for another year, giving him a chance to make a full evaluation.
Really, it shouldn’t cost more than $3 million to keep Patrick on a one-year deal, especially with him coming off of a year in which he hauled in 51 passes for 742 yards and six touchdowns.
Those numbers might not look earth-shattering, but of his 51 catches, 14 went for 20-plus yards, four going for 40-plus yards, and 65% of his receptions moved the chains.
Patrick’s 14 catches that went for 20-plus yards tied him for ninth-most in the league in 2020, just behind names like Cole Beasley, DeAndre Hopkins, and DK Metcalf.
When Courtland Sutton went down with a torn ACL in Week 2 at Pittsburgh, a lot of questions remained with a young, talented wide receiver room. Many expected rookie first-rounder Jerry Jeudy to take the leap forward and become 'the guy' but that didn’t happen.
Instead, it was Patrick making key plays consistently, becoming a security blanket for Lock in tough situations. Patrick developed into a deep threat and really as a route runner in 2020 with the Broncos, showcasing that he could be a legitimate No. 2 or No. 3 in the Mile High City.
Stack and Win
One of the keys with Patrick as a deep threat is his ability to stack corners on the outside and win vertically with late separation at the top of the route.
The hallmark of a good vertical receiver is his ability to win late in the route, and that’s what Patrick did consistently in 2020.
Here against Jason McCourty in Week 6 at New England, Patrick got off to a fast start, hauling in this 41-yard strike from Lock on the second play of the game.
Look at how he stays clean off his release and works vertically down the sideline. Notice how he wins late in the rep, separating late at the top of his route to haul in the bomb.
Earlier in the year in Week 4 at the New York Jets, Patrick did the same thing vertically against Pierre Desir.
Patrick got a clean release off the line and pushed vertically through contact before separating late to get underneath the ball from Brett Rypien.
The best part of Patrick’s game in 2020 was his route running.
He’s not the best athlete and doesn’t possess the quick-twitch in short areas that guys like Jeudy and KJ Hamler do, but Patrick really honed in on his technique as a route runner, which led to him getting open consistently.
That’s my favorite route – by far – that Patrick ran in 2020. He absolutely cooked big-ticket cornerback Byron Jones of the Dolphins in that Week 11 game.
He’s so explosive in and out of his cuts and transfers his weight well in short areas.
Then, you have his ability to create after the catch.
That’s a great job to win early in the route with footwork, but after he makes the catch he displays his power with the football. He’s not a burner by any stretch of the imagination, but he destroys angles with his speed and runs with impressive power for a receiver.
Footwork was a key development with Patrick’s route running, but he really flashed the footwork at the catch point.
Here at Kansas City in Week 13, Patrick made one of the catches of the year, tapping both feet down inside the lines for this impressive 10-yard touchdown catch.
He shows great footwork getting a clean release to work upfield on the fade route from Lock, but the key is the two toe taps once he catches the football.
Making the Case for Patrick
Paton could look at the wide receiver’s room and feel that he’s loaded there (he is) and decide to move on from a guy like Patrick, whether that’s through renouncing his rights or trading him outright.
To me, that would be a mistake.
Patrick was as consistent as they come in 2020 for the Broncos. It didn’t matter who was throwing the ball to him week-to-week; he came down with the football.
The former undrafted free agent out of Utah worked his way up from special teams reps to a clear-cut No. 2 option in 2020. With Sutton coming back and the duo of Jeudy and Hamler expected to progress forward into their second year, the Broncos might not have a real need to keep Patrick around.
However, cheap, good depth is hard to come by in the NFL, and that’s exactly what Patrick is.
Having him around on the roster in 2021 not only gives Lock a piece he’s familiar with and trusts in a make-or-break year, but it also helps the offense overall, opening up the field and keeping other receivers in one-on-one coverage.