Cody Latimer makes a one-handed catch during a Broncos minicamp practice.
Everyone wants to talk about the quarterbacks. With good reason, of course. But Emmanuel Sanders has been through this for two years now, and with every public appearance comes a question — or two or three, maybe four — about the quarterbacks and which one will start in Week 1.
Been there. Heard that.
Sanders, half of the Broncos’ star wide receiving duo with Demaryius Thomas, knows the routine. But lost in the quarterback chatter is a brewing battle close to home.
Despite Denver’s general offensive struggles the past two seasons, Thomas and Sanders have each mustered more than 1,000 receiving yards in 2015 and 2016, along with at least five receiving touchdowns. They’ve been labeled 1A and 1B on the receiving depth chart and were self-titled Batman and Robin.
If Thomas and Sanders are co-1s, who is No. 3 among the nine other receivers on the Broncos’ roster?
“That’s a full room. Between ’88’ (Thomas), ’10’ (Sanders) , ’14’ (Cody Latimer) and (Bennie) Fowler, plus those two young kids, that’s a full room,” coach Vance Joseph said. “It’s going to be a tough decision in terms of who makes our football team, but that’s the way it should be.”
For a year and a half now, the Broncos have boasted a lengthy list of receivers but no clear third receiver, no reliable pass catcher behind their Pro Bowl duo. With a new coaching staff and a new offense, the emphasis this offseason has turned to find speed and power and versatility across the board on offense.
Enter rookies Carlos Henderson and Isaiah McKenzie, drafted in the third and fifth rounds, respectively, who boast quickness and smarts but also are raw.
“If you were out there at practice the past couple days, you could see the playmaking ability that they have. They’re explosive players,” offensive coordinator Mike McCoy said during organized team activities. “The most important thing right now — and it’s really the whole entire offense — is put yourself in a position come training camp to win a spot on the football team. Don’t worry about anybody else; just take care of your own job.”
The arrivals of Henderson and McKenzie and the return of Marlon Brown are boosts to McCoy’s offense. But they were also nudges for the two players who again figure to lead the way for the No. 3 spot.
Latimer, who enters the final year of his rookie contract, has totaled 16 catches for 158 yards and one touchdown in his three years in Denver.
Fowler, who suffered an elbow injury in preseason last year, failed to follow his breakout year of 2015. He recorded 11 catches for 145 yards, but miscues — including a critical drop in the end zone at Tennessee — overshadowed his pair of touchdowns and big catches.
For both — and for the seven other receivers — the time is now.
“I know Bennie is hungry. I’ve been watching his Snapchats and Instagram, and he’s working out. Cody’s been working out since the end of the last season,” Sanders said at his annual ProCamp on Tuesday at Northglenn High School. “You see Carlos and Isaiah and all those guys, Jordan (Taylor), every single one of the receivers, Marlon (Brown) — those guys are working. They want it.
“Everybody is just for that opportunity to take advantage of it. I see a whole bunch of hardworking guys who understand that the mind-set is not make the playoffs; the mind-set is to bring a championship to Denver. That’s why I love this wide receiver group.”
From left: receivers Jordan Taylor, Bennie Fowler, Demaryius Thomas and Carlos Henderson.