Over the last few years, the Denver Broncos have invested draft and free-agent capital into bolstering the talent at the wide receiver and cornerback positions. The transactions have paid dividends by making the two groups the most gifted on the roster.
With training camp starting last week, competition with projected starters and key contributors has been elevated to a new level. We’ll see how the talented receiving corps compare to the skilled defenders.
These position vs. position battles are heating up. Here's how these two positions are unfolding at Broncos camp.
Give former GM John Elway credit for restocking talent at wideout. Through the draft, Elway landed Pro Bowler Courtland Sutton, KJ Hamler, Tim Patrick, and first-round pick Jerry Jeudy.
Recently, Pro Football Focus projected the Broncos 2021 wide receiver corps as sixth-best in the NFL. It doesn't matter whether Drew Lock or Teddy Bridgewater is the quarterback, the belief is that the unit will take a colossal step forward in reducing the number of drops and generating more touchdowns. This group can become a dominant force in the NFL.
Early Standouts: Jeudy, Hamler, and Trinity Benson.
Looks like first-year GM George Paton’s top priority was securing arguably the best band of cornerbacks since the Broncos' legendary 'No Fly Zone.' Paton invested big dollars in acquiring talented free agents Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller.
Fuller played for head coach Vic Fangio during his stint as Chicago's defensive coordinator. Paton solidified the group by selecting Patrick Surtain II as the ninth overall pick in the 2021 draft.
These three payers join productive veteran slot corner Bryce Callahan. If the secondary stays healthy it has the potential to be one of the top three cornerback groups in the league.
Early Standout: Surtain
Battles to Watch in Team Drills
Jeudy vs. Darby: Jeudy possesses good straight-line speed and is lauded for his ability to make defenders dizzy with his lateral quickness and precise route running. His production was hindered by his high number of dropped passes last year. If that part of his game is cleaned up, the sky is the limit for him.
Darby is respected for leveraging his speed to thrive in both man and zone coverage. He’s effective in press-man coverage due to his ability to recover if the receiver gets behind him. Darby performs better against receivers his size or smaller.
The Alabama product has a great deal to prove coming off a rocky rookie season. Look for the second-year wideout to negate Darby’s speed advantage by keeping him off balance with ankle-breaking route running.
Patrick vs. Fuller: Patrick was arguably last season’s most productive Bronco receiver with 43 receptions for 643 yards and six touchdowns. Many call the former undrafted free agent the most undervalued player on the roster.
The 6-foot-4, 208-pound Patrick possesses the necessary speed to threaten defenders and has the ability to run any route combination. As a former college basketball player, he uses his size to make contested catches.
Fuller was selected to the 2018 Pro Bowl and named to the All-Pro team under Fangio's coaching in Chicago. The 5-foot-11, 194-pound corner should help the secondary create more turnovers. Fuller’s calling card is balance.
He has the physicality to play against bigger receivers and the quickness to effectively play zone or man coverage. Familiarity with the Broncos' defensive scheme and coaching staff should accelerate his performance.
Patrick and Fuller possess size, speed, and determination. Don’t look for either to back down in the arena. Pay attention to who wins the contest in the red zone.
Hamler vs. Callahan: Last season, speedster Hamler flashed potential. Explosive off the line of scrimmage, the 5-foot-9 and 179-pound former Nittany Lion is known for his ability to create space and take it to the house at any time.
Last season Hamler had 30 receptions, 381 yards, and three touchdowns. Expect him to play exclusively in the slot position due to his size.
Callahan, another long-time Fangio disciple, was on a Pro Bowl trajectory until injuries impacted his playing time last year. When healthy Callahan is one of the top slot corners in the league. The nickel specialist possesses the speed, nimbleness, and ability to diagnose plays and make it difficult for opposing receivers.
Hamler won’t be the first fast receiver Callahan has lined up against. Look for him to lean on his technique and athleticism to frustrate Hamler. The match-up will make the speedy wide receiver a more complete player.
Sutton vs. Surtain: This one has been somewhat postponed somewhat. This Clash of the Titans between Sutton and Surtain will be delayed until later in camp. Sutton is coming off a serious knee injury so xpect the Broncos coaching and training staff to continue being cautious with returning him to full participation in contact drills.
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