Kendall Hinton did not hear his name called on NFL draft day a year ago but the former Wake Forest quarterback-turned-wideout signed with the Denver Broncos as a college free agent. Due to Denver's embarrassment of riches at wide receiver, no one really expected Hinton to factor into the picture in 2020.
However, he played well enough in training camp to earn a practice squad spot where he bided his time like all former undrafted rookies pining away for that one opportunity to make a dent in the universe.
For Hinton, that opportunity came in Week 12 when he was tapped to play quarterback in a regular-season game for the Broncos after the team's four other signal-callers were ruled out in COVID-19 quarantine. The NFL dropped that bomb on the Broncos and were unbending and unsympathetic to then-GM John Elway's pleas to reschedule the game from Sunday to Tuesday, as the league office had done for other teams earlier in the season in a similar spot.
Elway later opined that he believed the NFL "applied a different standard" to the Broncos but there wasn't much Denver could do except forfeit. With an experimental test subject willing to throw himself into the fray in Hinton, Elway's Broncos did not wave the white towel.
The New Orleans Saints steam-rolled the Broncos sans Drew Brees but in the process, Hinton earned the love, respect, and admiration of his teammates, coaches, and fans.
Fast forward to this summer, and in the estimation of head coach Vic Fangio, Hinton has been one of the studs of OTAs and has worked his way into the conversation for one of the Broncos' roster spots at wide receiver.
"A guy that's had a really good camp—from the start of OTAs until now—has been Kendall," Fangio said. "He's really looked good as a receiver and he's improved a lot. He's in the hunt there for one of those spots."
Hinton was a three-star quarterback recruit coming out of high school and played the position for the Demon Deacons in each of his collegiate campaigns except his senior year. Switching to wide receiver, he showcased some of that playmaking ability he flashed as a dual-threat QB, finishing the year with 73 receptions for 1,001 yards and four touchdowns.
Had he not switched positions at the 11th hour of his collegiate career, and had, perhaps, one more season to ply his wares for NFL scouts, perhaps he would have gotten drafted. Alas, he did not. But some things happen for a reason.
If the 6-foot, 190-pound former quarterback can apply that massive heart and football brain to his unique athletic talent, it could be a recipe for NFL success as a wide receiver. If it shakes out that way for Hinton, it would be a very unconventional career trajectory but once a guy makes it to the top of the mountain, nobody really cares to focus on how he got there.
Hinton never dreamed his NFL debut would unfold the way it did in Week 12 of last season. But he accepted the challenge Fangio and company laid on him with aplomb. Hinton only completed one pass for 13 yards but the stripes he earned could go on to pay some big dividends in the future.
“I would not say this is how I planned it out in my dreams, but it usually doesn't work out how you want it," Hinton said back in December after falling to the Saints 31-3. "So, just getting this opportunity and this experience has been amazing."
Don't sleep on the North Carolina native as a threat to crack the very wide receiver depth chart the Broncos carry into the 2021 regular season.
Follow Chad on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
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