Three Utes Have Three Different Futures With The Broncos
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – When I left Colorado Springs to come to KSL Sports earlier this month I couldn’t be more excited to come back home to Utah to continue doing the job I love for the station I’ve always wanted to do it for. Now it’s time for me to get back in touch with my Utah roots and the great teams we all cheer for.
Living in Colorado for 13 years exposed me to new adventures covering the Rockies, Avalanche, Nuggets and my favorite childhood team, the Denver Broncos. For nine wonderful seasons I enjoyed going to training camp, practices and Broncos games and getting to know and see this team from a different perspective.
A part of the past three seasons gave me the opportunity to follow the beginning NFL careers of three former Utah Utes: Running back Devontae Booker, offensive lineman Garett Bolles and wide receiver Tim Patrick. Each of them have a very different future in their football careers.
Booker Arrives In Denver With High Hopes
It was April 30, 2016 and the Denver Broncos were less than three months removed from winning Super Bowl 50, the third Super Bowl title for the franchise. Ronnie Hillman was the team’s leading rusher having carried the ball for 863 yards and a team high seven touchdowns. Although he posted career highs in every major statistical category for a running back, it became clear late in the season that he would not be in the Broncos’ future plans.
Third year back C.J. Anderson had emerged as the future of the Broncos rushing attack taking over the starting role from Hillman as the Broncos made their playoff push. Anderson posted 90 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown in the Broncos win over the Panthers in Super Bowl 50. But with Hillman on his way out, Anderson would need a sidekick.
It was on that final day of April that the Broncos used a fourth round pick on an elusive college runner that had a nose for the end zone. Former Ute Devontae Booker became a Denver Bronco. It was a pick that NFL.com analyst Mark Dulgerian said “If [Booker] stays healthy, we’ll look back at this pick as being one of the best in the 2016 draft.”
The table was set and the ceiling was high and Broncos Country was excited that the next great Broncos running back was now joining the team.
Bolles Drafted As Foundation Piece
Even with the retirement of legendary quarterback Peyton Manning after the 2015 season few would have predicted the Broncos fall from playoff contention the following season with just nine wins and a third place finish in the AFC West division.
Over a two-season stretch the Broncos offensive line had gone from allowing the fewest sacks in the NFL (17) to ninth most in the NFL (40). And with a young quarterback who had essentially just completed his first season in the NFL in Trevor Siemian and 2016 first round pick QB Paxton Lynch, the Broncos needed to add some protection up front and give their young QBs a fighting chance to complete passes.
Strengthening the offensive line was a top priority for the Broncos heading into the 2017 NFL Draft. It’s a moment few in Broncos Country will forget when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced tackle Garett Bolles as the 20th overall pick in the draft. He appeared on the stage at Radio City Music Hall with his infant son Kingston in his arms instantly making him a big, soft, loveable guy to the national media.
However, in his first training camp though he made it clear that he’s rough and tough saying he’ll protect his quarterback, “like my wife. You touch her and you’re in trouble.”
The future at the most important position on the offensive line seemed to be set for the next decade in Denver.
Patrick Works His Way Onto Roster
Size. Speed. Quickness.
Qualities every NFL team wants at the wide receiver position. The Broncos had a lot of that on the roster going into the 2017 season with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders leading the way. However, the Broncos were always looking for more potential playmakers on offense especially with the youth at quarterback.
Tim Patrick’s collegiate career at Utah didn’t leave him as a coveted NFL Draft prospect as the draft approached. He went undrafted in 2017 but his size and speed was enough to earn him a look.
The Baltimore Ravens gave him a shot at rookie camp in May of 2017. He didn’t make a strong enough impression and was released.
The San Francisco 49ers thought enough of him to sign him to their training camp roster in July of that summer. He played in two preseason games making just two catches for 21 yards. He didn’t make the Niners’ final 53-man roster or get a spot on the practice squad.
Two months later, unsure if he would ever play football again, the Denver Broncos called. They signed him to the practice squad, finished out the year and was brought back to compete for a roster spot in 2018. Not only did he make the roster but he finished the 2018 season with four starts and an increasing role with a team that had traded its number one receiver, Thomas, mid-season.
Different Trajectories For Each Former Ute
All three of these former Utes were given an opportunity to make it with one of the most storied franchises in the NFL. However, all three of these former Utes are headed in very different directions.
Booker Nearing End Of Career?
With the departure of C.J. Anderson, Booker went into training camp in 2018 as the Broncos starting running back. But he fell below a pair of rookies on the depth chart by the time the season began. Undrafted rookie Phillip Lindsay and third-round pick Royce Freeman combined for 30 carries and 142 yards in the season opener. Booker was handed the ball just twice in Week 1.
Booker’s total carries dropped by 81 percent from his rookie season to his third season. The writing is on the wall. It’s possible that Booker has one season more, at best, to improve his NFL career.
Steady Improvement By Bolles
You can’t blame Bowles for being a first round draft pick. If he was taken in the third round or even as high as the second round in 2017 instead of 20th overall, it’s possible that most reviews on the first two seasons of his career would be more positive.
The knock on Bolles is that he is oft-penalized. It’s a problem he also had in his time at Utah. In the NFL, he was third in the league in penalties by offensive lineman as a rookie and seventh in his second season, tied for first in holding penalties each year.
But don’t ignore the positives. Arguably the most important stat for a left tackle is sacks allowed and he cut that number down from 8.5 in his rookie season to just three last season.
The bright side to being a first round pick is the team can pick up the option on a fifth season. An option that the Broncos will likely exercise when that time comes and fans will be looking back at Bolles as a reliable five-year starter as the anchor to the Denver offensive line.
Time To Shine For Patrick
Patrick has the highest ceiling of any of the former Utes on the Broncos roster. With the trade of Demaryius Thomas to the Texans and a torn achilles tendon by Emmanuel Sanders, Patrick was suddenly in a starting role in the Broncos offense opposite rookie Courtland Sutton in the 2018 season.
In the final four games of the season Patrick led the Broncos with 242 receiving yards and 13 yards per catch.
From an undrafted kid out of the University of Utah to an NFL starter in less than two seasons. Tim Patrick has nowhere to go but up with the brightest future of any of these three Utes in the NFL.
The Broncos’ season will begin on Aug. 1 with a preseason matchup against the Atlanta Falcons.