The Denver Broncos will have a heck of a battle at the wide receiver position in 2020. We look at the battle between Tim Patrick and rookie Tyrie Cleveland.
The Denver Broncos have something at the wide receiver position they haven't had since 2014:
The Broncos enter their (virtual) offseason program with some of the best depth they have had at the wide receiver position since Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker/Emmanuel Sanders, and Wes Welker were running the show with Peyton Manning at the quarterback position.
Courtland Sutton is the team's clear WR1 heading into his third NFL season and is coming off of a tremendous year with the Broncos in which he eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards in perhaps the most impressive fashion any wide receiver could. There were not many receivers in the NFL who fabricated their offensive production quite like Sutton, whose inability to create separation as a rookie was something he dramatically improved in year two.
With the rookie duo of Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler expected to make a huge impact on the offense in 2020, what is to become of the Broncos' other players at receiver?
DaeSean Hamilton has been a rumored potential cut candidate, but he might come out of camp ahead of KJ Hamler for the WR3 duties this season, his third in the NFL.
Behind those four players, the Broncos have a pretty open competition. One interesting potential battle for a roster spot could be between rookie Tyrie Cleveland and veteran Tim Patrick. Patrick was re-signed by the Broncos as an exclusive rights free agent. Cleveland was selected with the Broncos' 9th of 10 picks in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Let's explore the reasons each player could make the roster and determine a verdict.
Tim Patrick is listed at 6-foot-4, 212 pounds compared to Cleveland, who is listed at 6-foot-2, 209 pounds.
There's no question that Patrick likes to use his size to his advantage. He is a prototypical 'X' receiver in the NFL with his combination of size, leaping ability, and aggressiveness at the catch point.
Actual experience/proven special teams value
Patrick has been in the NFL and the Broncos since the middle of the 2017 season. He saw his first regular season action in 2018 and caught 23 passes, including his first (and only, to this point) career touchdown.
Patrick has 39 career receptions, 29 of which have been for first downs or a touchdown.
He also has experience on special teams. In 2018, he played 49 percent of the Broncos' special teams snaps. because of his injury in 2019, he didn't play but 13 special teams snaps.
The Broncos value him highly
The Broncos value Patrick highly enough that he was one of the two players they decided to bring back off of injured reserve last season, including quarterback Drew Lock.
He's been with the Broncos for parts of four different seasons now, and the fact that he's stuck around as long as he has is a testament not only to his hard work but how much the team likes what he brings to the table.
Patrick has developed primarily in Denver since coming out of Utah, though he spent his first offseason in the league with the San Francisco 49ers.
Since joining Denver, the Broncos have been the team to see his development through to this point. He's still just 26 going on 27, so it could be that Patrick is stepping into his best years as a professional.
Dating back to his years in college, injury issues have plagued Patrick. He made an incredible recovery from what could have been a career-ending injury in college and stayed healthy through his first NFL season, but he's coming off of a year in which he missed half the season with a broken hand, then struggled with a shoulder injury after that.
Although Patrick isn't old, he's older than Tyrie Cleveland by four years. That's something teams will factor in when building a roster, certainly.
Although Patrick made a nice impact in his first game back off of IR last season and he's had a handful of big plays in the last two years, he's yet to solidify and separate himself as someone the Broncos need to keep on the field.
Speed and Athleticism
I realize Cleveland ran a very solid 4.46 at the Scouting Combine at 6-foot-2, 209 pounds, but this guy is so much faster than a 4.46 on tape.
In high school, Cleveland was running in the mid 4.3 range. There's no way he's gotten slower since then, and it shows when you put on the tape. He's a legit 4.3 speed guy and I wouldn't be surprised if the Broncos could confirm that from their tape study.
Not only is Cleveland much faster than Patrick, but he's also got some other outstanding athletic traits, including explosive leaping ability. Cleveland posted a 39.5-inch vertical jump at the Combine with a 126-inch broad jump.
Patrick certainly is no slouch in the athletic department -- he ran a 4.47 and posted a 37.5-inch vertical jump, but Cleveland's traits stand out on tape in comparison.
Although Tim Patrick is on a team-friendly one-year deal in 2019, the Broncos will get Cleveland on a four-year contract.
Combine the four years versus one year with Cleveland being four years younger than Patrick, and the advantage is clearly in the rookie's favor.
Return game value
Although Tim Patrick has proven he can play special teams at the NFL level, that is certainly something Cleveland is known for coming out of Florida.
In fact, he adds an element to special teams that Patrick does not -- kick return ability.
The Broncos may not be chomping at the bit to get Diontae Spencer out of the kickoff return mix, but Cleveland has proven that's part of his game he can do very well.
What the Broncos have gotten from Tim Patrick in flashes over the past couple of years -- solid special teams play, the occasional big play, solid blocking -- are the same types of things they can get from Tyrie Cleveland, just on a longer contract and with a younger player.
Who would win a spot?
We can talk about traits and hypotheticals all day, but this is a very even match on paper.
The experience and development of Patrick combined with the team clearly liking him quite a bit are huge advantages in his favor.
Cleveland's four-year rookie contract, outstanding traits, and all-around special teams prowess are all huge factors in his favor.
If I had to decide this today, I would take Tyrie Cleveland to make the final roster. The biggest advantage being his age and the fact that he's going to be on a four-year deal.
Now, the Broncos could attempt to keep Cleveland on the practice squad while holding Patrick on the active roster for this season. They also have Patrick as a restricted free agent in 2021 if they want, so this isn't quite four years versus one, but more like four years versus two.
If I had to pick just one, though, I am taking the guy with the flashier traits and the longer contract at a younger age. Although he's only got 24 games of NFL experience, Patrick has been around for a while and he's done a heck of a job, but he hasn't taken a stranglehold of his spot just yet.
Cleveland is going to have to prove himself on special teams and on offense to truly beat out Patrick for a roster spot, but there are signs pointing in that direction.