Tim Patrick’s season-ending knee injury leaves the Denver Broncos searching for how to replace the big-bodied receiver’s production.
Denver has an excellent wide receiver trio remaining in Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton and K.J. Hamler to lean on, but it will miss Patrick’s red-zone production.
Over the past three seasons, Patrick has generated eight red-zone touchdowns — tied with former tight end Noah Fant for most on the team in that span.
Sutton’s size could help fill that void, but Patrick’s injury will also thrust more work on tight ends Albert Okwuegbunam and Greg Dulcich, a third-round rookie.
Coach Nathaniel Hackett said the Broncos will need the TEs to step up to fill the void.
“[They’re] going to have to be,” he said, via the team’s official website. “Flipping it, obviously very upset [Patrick’s] not here, but now here’s an opportunity for somebody to step up. Especially in the red zone, to have the opportunity to make some touchdowns, utilize some different people, that’s what we’re going to have to do. And in that area, you always want everybody to have to cover the whole field … and all the skill guys. It’ll be exciting to see who is going to step up. Somebody’s going to have to.”
Dulcich was pushing Al O for TE1 duties early this offseason before suffering an injury. The rookie could play a more significant role as a pass-catcher following Patrick’s injury.
“There’s a lot of guys, and not only are they big bodies, but those dudes can run,” Hackett said. “You saw it a couple times already watching all those guys … getting Dulcich back, [him] being slowly worked back in, watching Albert run, [Eric] Saubert run, [Andrew] Beck’s run well. Whenever you have that kind of a fluid player that can be on the line and block to take advantage of matchups there and at the same time stretch the field vertically, you’re really excited.”
Patrick was also viewed as an option to play a “big slot” role in Hackett’s offense, a job that will now need to be filled. The Broncos could use their top two tight ends to fill those snaps, splitting out to the slot, particularly in the red zone.
“I think … one of the beauties of this offense, especially at the tight end position, is just the ability to put us anywhere,” Okwuegbunam said. “When you put me against a linebacker, I’m going to be faster than him. When you put me against a DB, I’m going to be bigger than him. I think that’s where it directly creates that mismatch.”
Patrick’s injury was a brutal blow for the Broncos early in camp. But they have time to adjust. Moving the tight ends around the formation is one way Hackett can milk production out of big bodies with one of their best red zone threats on the shelf in 2022.
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