2022 was a season of change for the Denver Broncos’ wide receivers, as we watched new stars emerge and new rookies join the team, as well as the fading of other starring figures.

What is the current state of the wide receiver room, and where should the Denver Broncos go from here? Let’s look.

Jerry Jeudy

Ever since 2020, Broncos Country wallowed in frustration, as Jerry Jeudy struggled to transition to the NFL game, while Justin Jefferson and CeeDee Lamb set the football world ablaze.

Jeudy’s talent in practice was always obvious, but in games he was inconsistent at the catch point and struggled to make much of an impact. His second season ended with zero receiving touchdowns, while Jefferson wound up with 10.

That narrative changed a little this season, especially down the stretch, as Jeudy grew into a true No. 1 wide receiver before our eyes, in spite of the offensive ineptitude that surrounded him.

Inconsistency plagued the start of his career, and this year, he became the most consistent player on the offense. Across his 14 completed games, he failed to tally 50 yards just three times, while posting a catch rate of 67.0% (ranking 101st of 197 qualifying pass catchers (49th percentile), which isn’t elite, but shows massive improvement in what was the weakest aspect of Jeudy’s game — success at the catch point.

The development of that gap in his game has opened the door for his strengths — creating separation and additional yards after the catch — to flourish.

That creating ability can be seen in the fact that every single Jeudy carry coverted a first down, and by the fact he averaged the 24th-most yards after the catch above expectation, per Next Gen Stats, as he averaged 1.1 more yards than expected on a per-catch basis.

But it’s highlighted nowhere better than in Jeudy’s efficiency vs. man coverage, where he averaged 4.19 yards per route run every time he faced man. To be clear, that’s not what he averaged per target or per reception. That’s what he averaged every play he was on the field and the defense didn’t choose some sort of zone to stifle him.

That leads the league and the gap between Jeudy and No. 2 (Mike Williams) is the same as the gap between No. 2 and No. 6 (D.K. Metcalf). 4.19 is the most dominant showing vs. man coverage (min. 15 targets) since 2014 by a receiver that didn’t receive an MVP vote. The only other player to do it (Cooper Kupp, 4.22, 2021) earned an MVP vote.

But Jeudy wasn’t just a one-trick pony this season, as he showed considerable progress in his ability to win against zone coverage. Over the first six weeks of the season, he ranked in the 35th percentile when facing zone (1.12 yards per route run), making him comfortably below average. However, over the final two-thirds of the season, Jeudy sprung to the 86th percentile (2.18 yards per route run), and ranked 16th out of 117 qualifying receivers.

As a result, regardless of the scheme he faced, Jeudy averaged 2.53 yards per route run, the sixth-most efficient rate this season, among 75 qualifying receivers. The only receivers that were more efficient than Jeudy this year were Justin Jefferson, Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams (the three first-team All-Pros this season), A.J. Brown (a second-team All-Pro) and Christian Watson (who will get votes for Offensive Rookie of the Year).

Down the final stretch of the season, the Denver Broncos began utilizing Jerry Jeudy as their ‘X’ and it further unlocked the burgeoning star. In his very first game in the new role, he tallied three touchdowns.

Denver’s offensive and quarterbacking incompetence prevented Jeudy from reaching the same heights as those other receivers, but the underlying stats suggest that he might now finally be on a similar trajectory to those superstars.

Courtland Sutton

Courtland Sutton’s 2022 season was extremely enigmatic, and now it’s hard to figure out where the team should go from here, as far as the former SMU product is concerned.

Despite now being 23+ months removed from the ACL tear that sidetracked his promising ascension to the top of the NFL, Sutton still didn’t look like himself.

Throughout the season’s first four weeks, it ranked in the top-10 in both yards per route run vs. man coverage, and Football Outsider’s DYAR metric, before watching his production plummet during the middle chunk of the year. One big factor in this was Sutton’s decreased ability to win at the catch point.

Sutton cemented his spot in the hearts of Broncos Country in 2019 thanks to making a series of remarkable grabs, and just dominating his opponents at the catch point. It earned him the nickname ‘Baby Megatron’ from his peers.

This year, he was far from Calvin Johnson, unfortunately.

Sutton’s drop rate of 8.3% 11th-worst among all wide receivers, and landed him in the 8th percentile among all pass-catchers. Meanwhile, his catch rate of 58.7% ranks 162nd among the 197 qualifying receivers.

Down the stretch of the season, we saw more signs of life from Sutton.

Productive showings against the Raiders and Panthers, demonstrating the ability to still be productive as Jeudy became the ‘X’, and some circus catches against the Titans and Chiefs build some confidence that maybe the old Sutton is right around the corner.

Nonetheless, given what Sutton showed in 2022, the Denver Broncos have to at least start thinking about avenues to upgrade.

Kendall Hinton & K.J. Hamler

Here we find the Broncos’ No. 3 receivers, which might be the tier here primed for the most upheavel. Tim Patrick is set to return, K.J. Hamler seems to be nearing the end of the road, and Kendall Hinton continues to blossom into a better and better receiver.

Hinton hasn’t made the type of seismic leap or the level of production that draws national attention, but Broncos Country should feel very excited about the trajectory of the young pass-catcher. Every single season he’s become a more reliable catcher of the football and a more nuanced route-runner, and those burgeoning technical skills are pairing with his physical gifts to create an intriguing receiver.

Highlighting that growth is the fact that Hinton posted new career highs in receptions (24), yards (311), yards per reception (13.0), catch rate (72.7%), yards after catch per reception (5.6), receiving first downs (14) and passer rating when targeted (108.4).

He’s not just a numbers darling either. His performances on the practice field and in games led to him receiving a steady increase in snaps over the course of the season. Prior to the bye week, Hinton had 168 snaps (21 per game), and after the bye, he received 333 (37 per game), an increase in playing time of 76.2%, on a per-game basis.

Now, if Hinton was penciled in as a Day 1 starter next season, it wouldn’t be ideal, but it does feel like he’s the third-best wide receiver on Denver’s roster until we get a look at Tim Patrick post-ACL. Even then, Hinton should be the first man off the bench, barring other additions.

Hinton’s big competiton for that role, as the roster currently stands, would be K.J. Hamler.

Hamler’s road back to the Broncos from his ACL tear has been extremely inspirational, and his speed is still a very special trait, but the health concerns are too numerous to ignore at this point. At his size, Hamler just might not be able to sustain a large role over the course of an entire NFL season.

Over the last two years, he’s caught just 12 passes — which is just two more than Albert Okwuegbunam tallied in this season alone — and has missed 24 games while appearing in just 10.

As long as he has his speed, he’ll have a home in the NFL, but it does feel like it’s time to start projecting smaller, more strategicly dolled out role could be ideal for Hamler at this point in his career.

Montrell Washington, Brandon Johnson, & Jalen Virgil

The Denver Broncos found three promising rookie receivers this year, and although experienced minor, varying degrees of success, it still provides the room with a needed infusion of youthful talent.

The most disappointing rookie was inarguably Montrell Washington. Not only did he require the greatest investment of the trio, as the other two went undrafted, but he also failed provide a positive impact for the Broncos on either offense or special teams.

After a strong training camp and preseason, it looked like Washington could be a constant fixture for Denver in 2022, but the on-field performance quickly disintegrated that notion.

Over the course of the season, he received five carries, and although one gained 19 yards, the other four combined to gain just 11 yards from scrimmage, meaning he averaged under three yards per carry outside of the lone outlier.

Washington was also targeted in the passing game nine times, totaling a mere four receptions for two yards. Maybe that was all the product of Nathaniel Hackett misutilizing Washington, but that production is paltry that it is concerning in regard to Washington’s future on offense.

Not only that, but Washington struggled so much on special teams during the season that he was a healthy scratch by the time Jerry Rosburg, a special teams savant, took over as interim head coach.

For Washington to live up to draft status, he would have to be a near-Pro-Bowl-level returner, and, this season, he wasn’t even starting caliber.

Brandon Johnson quickly rose up the ranks during training camp and was even the first of these rookies to see playing time with the first-team offense during the off-season. However, a tragic injury suffered during the preseason would force the Denver Broncos to move on from Johnson until he was healthy again, and even still, the injury greatly deflated the role he was projected to occupy in the offense.

However, in spite of all that, Johnson still would up being targeted nearly as much (12 times) as Washington and Jalen Virgil combined (13 times) thanks to what he showed during the offseason.

Johnson is a bigger-bodied receiver who can thrive in the middle areas of the field, which might be a niche the Denver Broncos are looking to fill this offseason, considering their current top three all do their best work outside.

His production was limited in year one, but considering he was an undrafted rookie dealing with remarkably bad luck in the league’s most inept offense, that limited production is forgivable. He should have a good chance to compete for a roster spot.

Lastly is Jalen Virgil, who has an argument for the title of ‘most under-utilized Bronco in 2022’.

The utilization of Albert Okwuegbunam was an embarrassment, but at least there was a redundancy issue thanks to how great Greg Dulcich was playing. No such problem existed at wide receiver, where K.J. Hamler’s health prevented the Broncos from having a true burner for much of the season, and yet still, they refused to turn Virgil’s way.

Virgil was a star during the preseason who consistently blew the top off opposing defenses, and he was also very decorated as a returner during his time at Appalachian State. The fact Marlon Mack got a return look before Virgil is appalling. Hopefully, the next staff incorporates him more.

Freddie Swain

As the Denver Broncos’ offense was brutalized by injuries this season, Freddie Swain was a palatable veteran band-aid, but he shouldn’t be viewed as much more than that.

His one-year deal was worth less than $1 million, and there’s a reason for that. Maybe his past experience with Russell Wilson in Seattle is deemed especially valuable as the franchise tries to return the flailing quarterback to glory, but otherwise, there’s no reason for Swain to return to Denver.

Despite playing more than 100 offensive snaps, Swain was targeted just four times, tallying 74 yards, which is fairly impressive given the sample.

Swain should be hoping the Broncos bring him back for a camp battle this summer, but it won’t be surprising in the least if they don’t.

Tim Patrick

Tim Patrick, unfortunately, didn’t play a single snap in 2022, as a result of a torn ACL suffered in practice, and his presence was sorely missed.

Even at his best, Russell Wilson was a feast-or-famine, boom-or-bust, high-variance quarterback that required stable, low-variance options to help keep the offense on schedule. Early in his Seattle career, that was Marshawn Lynch. Then it was Tyler Lockett who filled that role. Although Jeudy took strides in regard to consistency, it still pails in comparison to what Patrick could’ve offered, and without Javonte Williams, the Broncos had no one to provide that down-to-down stability.

Hopefully, Patrick will remedy that upon his return, but watching a similar player (Courtland Sutton) struggle to come back from a similar injury should leave the Denver Broncos feeling a little anxious.