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Broncos rookie receivers a bright spot in difficult season

Denver Broncos wide receiver Jerry Jeudy fights for control of the pass with New York Jets cornerback Pierre Desir. Jeudy made the reception for a touchdown.

ENGLEWOOD – Even with quarterback Drew Lock struggling to stay accurate and available and the Broncos tumbling toward another losing season, there’s reasons for optimism on offense.

Despite Courtland Sutton’s season-ending knee injury after just three catches, general manager John Elway’s decision to use his first two draft picks on pass catchers is beginning to pay dividends.

First-rounder Jerry Jeudy (34) and second-rounder KJ Hamler (21) are the only rookie teammates with 20-plus catches this season.

Jeudy has shaken off drops early in the season and has averaged 89 yards receiving over the last three weeks, including seven catches for 125 yards and a touchdown at Atlanta two weeks ago.

Hamler has finally overcome hamstring issues he’s dealt with all year to come on strong in November, averaging 12½ yards a catch over the last two weeks after catching his first NFL touchdown pass, a game-winner from Lock with no time left in Denver’s 31-30 win over the Chargers three weeks ago.

Helping to guide the duo through their first season in the pros is Tim Patrick, a third-year pro who’s posted a pair of 100-yard games and has become the leader of the group with Sutton sidelined.

“For them having this new type of money, this new type of freedom, you’ve just got to make sure they’re doing the small things right, to make sure they stay focused,” Patrick said.

He said he’s found willing disciples in Jeudy, known for his crisp route running, and Hamler, known for his speed.

“We’ve got two guys that love football and they don’t want to show anything bad on film or in games, so for the most part, they’re already vets in their own way,” Patrick said. “But I’m just there to send them reminders on certain things just to keep them on track.”

The rookies also lean on each other as they navigate the NFL.

“We talk about everything, when we’re frustrated, when we’re happy, what can we do better in the game and at practice,” Hamler said. “We’re always picking each other’s brains. I learn stuff from him, he asks me questions, ‘Why’d you do this? Why’d you do that?’ I ask him questions. It’s all love and trying to help each other out so we can get better.”

In addition to Jeudy and Hamler, the Broncos’ offense features plenty other greenhorns, including second-year tight end Noah Fant, rookie center Lloyd Cushenberry III, third-year receiver DaeSean Hamilton. Rookie tight end Albert Okwuegbunam was coming on strong before a season-ending knee injury this month and still projects as a key building block for the future.

The load of young talent reminds Dolphins coach Brian Flores, whose team visits Denver on Sunday, of his own team from 2019, and he’s especially a fan of Jeudy’s.

“He’s going to be a good player. He already is a good player. He does a great job with his releases, which as a young player, that’s one of the things that oftentimes shows up last,” Flores said. “He’s already very good from that standpoint. He’s very good at the top of the route, he has good hands, he can make contested catches, he’s good in the middle of the field and he’s good in the deep part of the field.”

Lock returned to practice Thursday on a limited basis after missing Wednesday’s workout with sore ribs and a strained oblique he sustained on a blindside hit last weekend in Las Vegas, where he threw a career-high four interceptions.

“I think he’s getting better and he did some work today. We’ll just have to see what the rest of the week brings,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “But he’s obviously trending toward playing better than (he was) yesterday.”

Lock shared snaps with backup Brett Rypien, who beat the New York Jets in his first and only NFL start back in Week 4.

Asked if he expects to be available Sunday, Lock said, “I would like to be. I’m going to take it day by day with these doctors and the trainers and even the coaches. I’m going to let them make a decision on whether or not they want to play me.

“Obviously I’ll give them my opinion and it’s yeah, I want to play. But in the end it’s not 100% up to me.”

Rypien said he’s treating this week like any other.

“I take the same approach every single week and that’s with the opportunity to play, whether I start, whether I have to come off the bench,” Rypien said.