Broncos wide receiver Tim Patrick had two choices after suffering a gnarly compound fracture to his left leg as a junior at Utah in 2014: Give up football or find a way to put the debilitating injury behind him and grind toward his goal of becoming an NFL wide receiver.
Patrick couldn’t walk for four months, and was sidelined for 18 months. He believes the adversity he faced ultimately increased his odds of making it to the highest level, where he now has a chance to stick on the Broncos’ opening day roster.
“It made me a smarter football player, honestly,” Patrick said Tuesday. “Sitting out the whole year (2015), all I could do was watch film. I basically fell in love with the game more after that.”
Patrick, 24, has a chance to become Denver’s fifth receiver, or the sixth if the team chooses to carry an extra one, based on the depth chart released Tuesday. Veterans Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders and rookies Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton are locks to make the team. The undrafted Patrick — whom the Broncos signed to the practice squad Oct. 21 last season — is listed as the No. 3 receiver behind Sanders and Sutton at one of the two wideout spots.
“He plays the game the right way, plays really hard, tough guy (and) this is important to him,” wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni said. “He’s definitely ascending so hopefully he can keep that up these next four preseason games. He’s a big, tall, rangy guy – it’s hard to find those 6-4 guys. If he keeps improving, he’ll be all right.”
Patrick grew up in San Diego and played two years at a junior college before transferring to Utah, where he missed 17 games due to injury. He used 2015 as a medical redshirt season after his devastating leg injury. But he’s not particularly injury-prone. His tibia/fibula compound fracture was a freak injury caused by colliding legs with a defender.
“I guess I had a stress fracture before and I just thought it was shin splints. And the pressure of our legs colliding just snapped my leg in half,” Patrick said. “I couldn’t look at my leg for a couple weeks.”
He was determined not to give up on his dream. He played well enough as a senior at Utah to be signed as an undrafted free agent by Baltimore a year ago but he was released before training camp. The next day, he was signed by San Francisco but was released Sept. 1 in the final cut before the season opener. The Broncos signed him in October and put him on the practice squad.
With Denver, Patrick is getting his best chance yet to prove he belongs.
“Here, I finally have a chance to show what I could really do and I’m taking full advantage of it,” he said. “I have five college teammates here and the coaching — I’m creating relationships just by being out here working hard. And they’re giving me every opportunity to make this team.”
He added: “I know I’m not the best at one specific thing but I feel like I’m good at everything. And I pride myself on being consistent, and coming out here every day and making at least one big play. (Fomer Utah star) Steve Smith, back in the day, would say, ‘They can’t forget you if you’re making one big play a day.’”
Broncos coach Vance Joseph said earlier in camp that the team had Patrick on its radar since he was with the 49ers last summer.
“He’s a grinder. He’s a big body, so what you’re looking for in backup receivers are guys you can put in the game, who can block, who can catch the ball in traffic and who can play special teams,” Joseph said. “He can do those things. It’s his chance to prove us right.”
Making an impression
Five Broncos players who have helped their stock during training camp:
Tim Patrick (WR): Knows how to use his 6-foot-4 frame to beat press coverage.
Isaac Yiadom (CB): Yes, he’s a rookie draft pick, has passed second-year cornerback Brendan Langley to get first-team snaps.
River Cracraft (WR): Surprisingly listed ahead of Isaiah McKenzie on unofficial depth chart. Is also catching punts.
De’Angelo Henderson (RB): Earned praise last week from offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. Definitely a part of tailback mix.
Austin Traylor (TE): A knee injury to Jeff Heuerman has allowed Traylor to play regularly with the first-team offense.
— Ryan O’Halloran, The Denver Post