Early in the Denver Broncos' 26-0 win over the New York Jets, second-year wideout KJ Hamler suffered a scary-looking knee injury and did not return to action. We learned Monday morning that Hamler tore his ACL, and, according to head coach Vic Fangio, "some other stuff," and is done for the season.
Hamler's loss marks the second impact wide receiver to go down for the Broncos in the team's first three games this season. 2020 first-rounder Jerry Jeudy suffered a severe ankle injury in the season-opener and is not expected back for another month at minimum.
Meanwhile, the Broncos still have Courtland Sutton — a 2019 Pro Bowler still working back somewhat from his own ACL tear suffered a year ago — as well as Tim Patrick. However, both Sutton and Patrick are quintessential X-receivers who make their bones outside the numbers.
The Broncos have the big-bodied possession receivers with some my-ball upside locked down. But with Jeudy went a uniquely elite route-running skill-set that allows him to get open with impunity, and losing Hamler will see a serious vacuum created for a receiver with legit speed and short-area burst that keeps defenses honest.
How will the Broncos fill that vacuum created by Hamler's injury? Diontae Spencer offers a similar ability but in a, let's call it, sugar-free version. He lacks that punchy buzz that Hamler brings to the field.
There's also Kendall Hinton, who saw plenty of action in Week 3, but after spending most of his collegiate career at Wake Forest as a quarterback, he's still honing the finer points of the route tree and NFL receiving nuances.
Perhaps the Broncos would be best served to look off-roster for a player currently languishing on the free-agent market, or maybe even look around the league at potential trade options.
On Monday, Fangio addressed what options are on the table for the Broncos.
“All of the above," Fangio said. "We’ll consider everybody we have here now, take a look at what might be available, and make our decisions.”
Hamler's unique traits offered the Broncos a skill-set that will be near-impossible to replace. Fangio acknowledged as much in his blunt delivery.
“We’ll miss that. KJ is a hard guy to cover," Fangio said. "You saw the key third down that we made the conversion with him. They were in man coverage, and the guy was nowhere near him. He’s hard to cover, so we’ll miss him.”
Jeudy and Hamler might be young guys in Year 2 but both presented unique challenges to defenses that studs like Sutton and Patrick frankly don't. If Sutton and Patrick are the main course or the meat, then Jeudy and Hamler are the potatoes.
In order to have a balanced meal, you need both. The same holds true if the Broncos are going to field a balanced aerial attack to keep this 3-0 train rolling.
One thing is certain, while the dust settles on the Hamler injury and GM George Paton gets to work on finding a possible solution to help fill the vacuum, Spencer is the guy who stands to gain the most in terms of role. Spencer has mostly specialized as the team's punt/kick returner but if he can answer the bell, it'd buy the Broncos time to at least get Jeudy back in time to make a run down the stretch.
“He’s a guy that’s going to have to take on a bigger role," Fangio said. "It’s a big opportunity for him.”
Also injured in Week 3's action were starting offensive guard tandem Dalton Risner (foot) and Graham Glasgow (knee). Neither returned to the game after going down.
In their stead, the Broncos turned to the second-year Netane Muti at right guard and the rookie third-rounder Quinn Meinerz at left. Muti was hit-and-miss in relief of Glasgow but as someone who watched Meinerz play vs. the Jets in-person, I was impressed by his contributions.
Fangio doesn't yet know the extent of Risner and Glasgow's injuries. Stay tuned.
Next up, the Broncos draw Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens at home in Denver. This will be the first big litmus test for the Broncos and should provide some answers on whether Fangio's 3-0 start is for real or fool's gold.
At a certain point, though, losing this many starters (we've not mentioned the losses of LB Josey Jewell, and CB Ronald Darby) is eventually going to affect the product on the field. That's why winning these first three games against opponents the Broncos were supposed to beat was so crucial to keeping this season alive.
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