Denver • As Broncos receiver Tim Patrick jumped to sky over cornerback Essang Bassey for an acrobatic catch Tuesday morning, many in the crowd of 2,425 responded with oohs for one of the top plays of training camp.
Just as quickly, though, those were replaced by oh nos. Patrick landed in good order, but his next step was his season-ending step as he crumpled to the grass with a torn right ACL.
The loss of the heart-and-soul player such as Patrick cast a pall on the first fully-padded practice of camp, robbing the Broncos of a player expected to thrive with the addition of quarterback Russell Wilson.
“A guy like Tim, who is such an amazing leader and has done everything you’ve asked, it breaks your heart because you love him,” coach Nathaniel Hackett said before he learned of Patrick’s diagnosis.
Entering the first season of a three-year, $34 million contract that capped a floor-to-ceiling NFL rise — undrafted out of Utah and cut by two teams before joining the Broncos’ practice squad in 2017 — Patrick was quickly surrounded by teammates and coaches as he was evaluated by the training staff.
“You always hate to see one of your teammates go down, but to see your brother Tim go down, it hurts,” receiver Courtland Sutton said. “You see a guy who worked his butt off all offseason and his preparation is second-to-none and he does everything he’s supposed to do to be able to put himself in a position to be successful.”
Hackett halted practice for several minutes, a nod to the popularity of Patrick.
“It speaks volumes.,” Sutton said. “Our team as a whole, we’ve all become really tight and everyone cares so much about each other, but Tim is such an impactful person for this team and leader — he’s the vet you want the young guys to model after.”
Patrick’s injury was preceded by a torn ACL for reserve running back Damarea Crockett, who played in 12 games last year and figured to get heavy work during the three-game preseason. Crockett was able to walk gingerly to the facility, but Patrick put no weight on the leg as he was lifted into a motorized cart for a ride to the trainer’s room. He was joined by general manager George Paton and receiver KJ Hamler.
Early-afternoon MRIs confirmed Patrick’s injury.
“To see him go down is unexplainable,” receiver K.J. Hamler said.
It marked the third consecutive year an ACL injury had impacted the team’s depth at receiver. Sutton was lost in Week 2 of the 2020 season and Hamler in Week 3 last year.
The Broncos entered camp hoping they finally had their top four pass-catchers lined up for the Sept. 12 opener at Seattle. Hamler was activated from the physically unable to perform list on Monday and was gearing up toward joining team work.
Now there is uncertainty.
The Broncos kept five receivers on their initial 53-man roster last year. Minus Patrick, the top four are Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Hamler and receiver/returner Montrell Washington. That leaves one spot (or possibly two spots) among the group of Kendall Hinton, Tyrie Cleveland (who is currently out with a throat injury), Seth Williams, Travis Fulgham, Brandon Johnson, Kaden Davis and Jalen Virgil.
Paton’s likely plan is to replace Patrick from within. The Broncos have $9,380,310 in available cap space according to the NFLPA, but the free-agent class is underwhelming — Will Fuller, Dede Westbrook, T.Y. Hilton are among those on the market. And forget about a major trade — the Broncos don’t have first- or second-round picks next year (flipped to Seattle as a part of the Wilson deal).
“It gives somebody an opportunity to really grow and become a great player because that’s what we’re going to need,” Hackett said. “Whenever you have these things happen, it’s about supporting the man (injured) because we are about the entire team, but then at the same time, it’s, ‘Hey, now everybody has to pick it up and somebody has to show up.’ "
But at a listed 6-foot-4 and 212 pounds, Patrick’s size and his ability to use it will be missed. In 31 games the past two years, he had 104 catches for 1,476 yards and 11 touchdowns and had ultra-reliable hands (only three drops per The Denver Post’s game charting).
Patrick thrived in the red zone, where he caught eight of his touchdowns — seven, seven, nine, five, 10 and two yards in 2020 and two and 12 yards last year. He was expected to fill the same role with Wilson throwing him passes.
“It was sad (to see Patrick injured) because I watched the work he put in this offseason,” running back Melvin Gordon said. “He told me was working out three times a day so when he got to camp he would be good. I know how much he was grinding and how much he wanted to be great and special this year.”