Denver Broncos' Ring-of-Famer Rod Smith certainly knows a thing or two about making the grade as an undrafted free agent. Third-year WR Tim Patrick shares the distinction of not hearing his name called on draft day and has already overcome serious odds, bouncing from San Francisco to Baltimore before catching on with the Broncos in 2017.
Patrick also has had to battle injury setbacks during his quest to make it in the NFL, as evidenced by his broken hand in the season-opener last year. He worked hard enough during his recovery to force his way back onto the active roster by mid-November, managing to flash on 16 catches and on special teams work. The Broncos opted to re-sign him to exclusive rights tender this past April.
Just last week, Smith dished on why Broncos' rookie second-round WR KJ Hamler is a 'game-changer' but in another conversation with Phil Milani of the team site, the retired wide receiver explained why he likes what he's seen so far from Patrick and outlined what it will take for Patrick to make the team in the face of all the new talent flooding the roster.
“I’m a huge fan of Tim, I really love his demeanor and the way he plays and I want him on the football field,” Smith told Milani. “Of course, I’m not in the meetings but I haven’t seen him make many mistakes and I’ve seen him play hard. And we need as many guys like that as you can get. [He's] hungry, hardworking and trust me, I’m a fan.”
After GM John Elway used his top two selections in the 2020 draft to select the explosive pairing of WRs Jerry Jeudy and Hamler, getting reps on the field is going to be much more difficult for Patrick. Throw in also seventh-rounder Tyrie Cleveland, as well as undrafted rookies Kendall Hinton and Zimari Manning, and the Broncos added five new WRs the likes of Patrick has to fend off.
Making what might amount to scant training camp reps with the first-team offense count will be absolutely crucial if the 26-year-old Patrick is going to flash enough to make the final cut. Smith knows this well from his own experiences just trying to make the Broncos squad in the ’90s.
“As an undrafted guy, I’m running the go routes where the ball's not going to come," Smith said. "I’m doing the dirty work on trying to block linebackers, I’m playing special teams, I’m doing whatever I have to do to make the team. But, in my mind I’m the starter."
Doubling down on the fundamentals required to just make the team could well keep Patrick in gainful employment with the Broncos this coming season. With that in mind, reapplying himself as a special teams ace could mark the 6-foot-5, 212-pound receiver out for a spot on the 53-man roster to open the season.
Adopting that kind of selfless 'whatever it takes' mindset can be often difficult, especially when highly-touted rookies arrive to take your job. Smith outlined to Milani exactly the kind of mental attitude and strength Patrick will have to embrace if he is going to stick around in a loaded receiver room.
“No one can control your mentality," Smith said. "You get to control how you respond to adversity, which is coming because that’s what this business is. They are going to put you in positions where you don’t think it’s fair. They are going to put you in positions where it’s tough mentally, physically, emotionally—how do you handle it?”
The manner in which Patrick reacts to the never-ending challenges that the NFL throws at a young man, especially one without a draft pedigree, will determine his future as a Bronco. Having survived multiple setbacks to this point of his young career, he knows what it takes to recover and persevere. Resilience is a knack undrafted guys have to cultivate quickly to survive.
That kind of intestinal fortitude and thick skin, sprinkled in with some of Smith’s sage words of advice, could make all the difference if Patrick manages to hang on to his No. 81 jersey in Denver this season.