ENGLEWOOD – After watching Tim Patrick 's season come crashing down with a serious knee injury at training camp, Denver safety Kareem Jackson lamented, “We can't replace a guy like that.”
The Broncos have no choice.
Patrick tore his right ACL and needs surgery. He won't be back until 2023, so Denver will have to find a suitable stand-in to have any chance of keeping pace with the high-powered offenses in the AFC West.
“It gives somebody an opportunity to really grow and become a great player because that’s what we’re going to need,” coach Nathaniel Hackett said. “Now everybody has to pick it up and somebody has to show up.”
Patrick will be missed on and off the field as Hackett and quarterback Russell Wilson put the finishing touches on their hybrid offense that combines concepts from the Packers, Seahawks and Broncos.
Patrick’s sure hands and dogged determination helped transform him from an undrafted afterthought who was cut twice as a rookie into a starter who emerged as Denver's leading receiver each of the past two seasons.
Despite a turnstile at quarterback, Patrick caught 104 passes for 1,476 yards and 11 touchdowns in 31 games since 2020, and he was entering the first season of a three-year, $34 million extension.
With a 6-foot-4, 212-pound frame, Patrick was especially effective in the red zone, catching eight of his TDs from inside the 20-yard line. And he didn't have any drops in 2020 and just three last season.
Although Patrick's torn ACL opens up a roster spot for an up-and-comer — barring a veteran free agent signing — the receivers who really need to step up are veterans Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler along with fifth-round draft pick Montrell Washington.
Sutton returned from a torn ACL last year to catch 58 passes for 776 yards and two touchdowns, but he had nine games with just one or two receptions. He also didn't score over the final 11 games.
This summer Sutton looks more like the 2019 version that caught 72 passes for 1,112 yards and six scores, earning a Pro Bowl berth. He no longer has a limp and seems ready to return to a starring role in the offense.
Jeudy followed up a spectacular training camp last year with a dud of a season. A high right ankle sprain in the opener sidelined him until November and he finished with just 467 yards on 38 catches with zero TDs.
Touted as the cream of the best wide receiver class ever, Jeudy has just three TD grabs in two years. He scuffled through an offseason of injuries and was jailed overnight in May in a domestic dispute before being cleared.
The speedster from Penn State was activated off the PUP list this week as he returns from hip and knee operations. After a solid rookie season (30 catches, 381 yards, three TDs) he tore his left ACL in September.
Hamler said he spiraled into a deep depression over the death of his grandmother three months after his surgeries. He opened up about his journey through recovery this week, citing therapy, his faith and football.
The speedy fifth-round pick out of Samford is the Broncos' new kick returner. He could give Hamler a run for the title of fastest player on the team, and Hackett has had high praise for his work ethic and flashes of big-play ability from scrimmage.
Barring further injuries or a free agent signing, that would leave one and possibly two spots up for grabs among veterans Kendall Hinton, Tyrie Cleveland, Seth Williams, Trey Quinn and Travis Fulgham and undrafted rookies Brandon Johnson, Kaden Davis and Jalen Virgil.
“It's going to be exciting to see who is going to step up,” Hackett said, “because somebody's going to have to.”
The Denver Broncos have signed free agent receiver Darrius Shepherd, who played for the Green Bay Packers for two years and played this spring for the New Jersey Generals of the USFL.
Shepherd takes the roster spot that opened up when Patrick was placed on the IR on Wednesday.
Shepherd is a 5-foot-11, 186-pound third-year pro out of North Dakota State who appeared in 14 regular season games with Green Bay from 2019-20, when Hackett was the Packers’ offensive coordinator.
Shepherd, who has half a dozen career receptions, played on the practice squads of the Cardinals, Vikings and Steelers last year before signing with the Generals, where he caught 27 passes for 323 yards and a touchdown.
The Broncos also signed free agent running back Max Borghi and placed running back Damarea Crockett on IR, also with a torn ACL, which occurred Tuesday about an hour before Patrick got hurt.
Borghi is a rookie from Washington State who tallied 2,158 yards and 32 touchdowns in 39 games for the Huskies. He averaged 5.8 yards a carry and also caught 156 passes for 1,134 yards and nine TDs.
Borghi, who grew up in Arvada, Colorado, was the only player in the country last fall named to both the Doak Walker Award (top college running back) and Fred Biletnikoff Award (top college receiver) preseason watch lists.