The Denver Broncos made multiple new additions to their edge rusher room, which was badly needed. It was a unit that struggled to get after the quarterback in 2021 but also to hold up against the run.
The new additions could lead to a battle at the bottom of the depth chart. It's assumed that the first four players at the edge positions are essentially set, but the fifth and potentially sixth spots are up in the air.
When a player is that low on the depth chart, special teams ability factors in greatly, which could benefit Aaron Patrick. Patrick has been praised by GM George Paton and special teams coordinator Dwayne Stukes mentioned his name first when asked who Denver's "core" special-teamers are.
“That’s easy. It’s Aaron Patrick, it’s Tyrie Cleveland, and without going into a whole bunch of names for guys getting sensitive because I didn’t mention their names, I’ll just stop it there," Stukes said on April 27.
That could be enough to land Patrick on the roster come September. But, for now, let's dig into the player.
Patrick is 25 years old but will be turning 26 on December 21. He was born and raised in Ohio and went to play college football at Eastern Kentucky.
Patrick didn't see the field often on the Colonels' defense during his five years at Eastern Kentucky. He only played 589 total snaps in his five years, with 236 coming in his final year.
Picking up 50 total pressures and 32 total stops during his college career, with 24 pressures and 15 stops coming in that final year, Patrick's overall showing was solid, but he struggled to stay on the field.
While he played five seasons, Patrick only appeared in 12 total games, starting 11 of them. So, while he played five seasons in college, he played about one season's worth of games. After his final year, where he put up a solid body of work, he entered the NFL draft.
With so few games played in college, it was a tough road for Patrick to walk leading up to the draft. It was made even bleaker without an invitation to any of the pre-draft bowl games or the NFL Scouting Combine.
Patrick showed good size, speed, and burst at his pro day, though. His relative athletic score ended up as a 9.54, but it wasn't enough to hear his name called in the 2020 draft.
It took a while for Patrick to land on an NFL team, having signed to the Jacksonville Jaguars' practice squad in December of 2021. He finished the season there, signed a futures contract, and went through the offseason with the Jaguars.
When it came time to cut down to their 53-man roster, Patrick was let go but re-signed to the practice squad. The Broncos signed him off of the Jaguars' practice squad a couple of weeks later.
When the Broncos brought Patrick in, he started contributing on special teams right away. While most fans don't pay close attention to special teams outside of a big play, Paton does. Paton gave Patrick some high praise for his play on special teams at the end of November.
"If you watch [Patrick] on special teams, this kid, he's a freak," Paton said. "He can run and he's learning how to play [outside linebacker in our scheme]."
Special teams was a good way for Patrick to show the speed that he has, especially at his size, and when going back to watch his film, he did play well. He ended up with just over 200 snaps on special teams.
Patrick got to see the field on defense, which includes getting the start in the season finale against the Los Angeles Chargers, though he didn't play well. Patrick had some flashes that could keep him around as a developmental piece. However, special teams are going to be vital for him.
There is no doubt Patrick is fighting for a roster spot, and special teams are likely where he has to earn it. So with that being his pathway, it's good that Stukes mentioned him as a core special teams player during a recent press conference.
With Patrick's main competition being veterans Malik Reed and Jonathon Cooper, who suffered an injury at practice this week and will undergo surgery, they have an edge in the competition because of their experience and play on defense. That's why special teams is so crucial for Patrick to make the roster.
Cooper has played on special teams in 2021, and Reed has only had a small third-phase role since his rookie year.
If Patrick doesn't make the roster, he's a good bet to make the practice squad at the very least. He has caught the attention of both Paton and Stukes and could still catch the attention of defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero. In addition, Patrick is a developmental edge rusher who can contribute to special teams and that's valuable to have around.
Preseason games will be a massive factor for Patrick with the live special teams reps. If he makes it, it'll be as the fifth or sixth edge rusher, and as stated, special teams are a must when you are that low on the depth chart.
Follow Erick on Twitter @ErickTrickel.
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