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BSN Exclusive: Why Juwann Winfree is already turning heads at Broncos camp

Ryan Koenigsberg Avatar
July 21, 2019

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Stiched upon Denver Broncos rookie receiver Juwann Winfree’s white practice jersey are two blue numbers, one and five, by surrounded orange trim. It’s a number that one day Winfree hopes to see throughout Broncos Stadium at Mile High, but underneath those numbers, are three more numbers that mean even more to the University of Colorado product.

On a long-sleeve blue shirt that Winfree often wears under his pads, the white numbers trimmed in orange, read 1-8-7. 187 to represent where Winfree was taken in the NFL Draft, the 187th pick in the sixth round. 186 players taken before him.

There was a time when Winfree likely didn’t envision 172 numbers between his jersey number and his draft position, a blue-chip prospect with unlimited potential coming out of high school, but things don’t always go according to plan.

After playing in eight games as a freshman at Maryland, Winfree was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. He would eventually transfer to Colorado where, in his first fall camp as a Buff, he garnered rave reviews.

Unfortunately, during that camp, Winfree tore his ACL, forcing him to miss the 2016 season. Then, in 2017, Winfree found himself behind a collection of seniors that head coach Mike MacIntyre favored, leaving him little to no playing time.

“I just waited my turn and supported them the whole year,” Winfree said.

In 2018, when it was finally his turn, bad luck struck again, as he pulled a hamstring in fall camp and later suffered a serious ankle injury early in the season, causing what eventually became another lost year.

When all was said and done, the extremely talented receiver finished his college career with just 60 catches for a total of 807 yards, numbers that don’t exactly scream NFL draft pick.

But there was something laying underneath the numbers and the injuries. On top of the talent, Winfree had something else.

“He was the hardest-working wide receiver I have ever coached,” University of Colorado receivers coach Darrin Chiaverini told BSN Denver.

That’s extremely high praise from “Chev,” as he is known in Boulder, who has been an assistant coach for over a decade.

The untapped talent, mixed with the work ethic, caught the attention of Denver Broncos receivers coach Zach Azzanni, who fell in love with Winfree as a prospect, and eventually pounded the table for the Broncos to not only select the wide receiver in the draft, but to trade up for him.

While Winfree now uses that number, 187, as motivation, there were many who believed Denver reached for the wideout even then, suggesting that not only did they not need to trade up for him in the sixth, but that they could have gotten him outside of the draft entirely.

As Broncos camp has kicked off, though, the reason for Azzanni’s affection has become clear. Throughout each day of practice, the rookie has made big plays for the offense, giving early vindication to the coach who put it on the line for him, and it’s no accident.

“Seeing that he has that much faith in me just makes you go that much harder,” Winfree told BSN Denver of Azzanni. “When you have a coach that likes you, a coach that supports you, a coach that pushes you and wants to see you succeed, that’s what you want. He’s always on my back, he’s always making sure I’m on my details. I never want to lack anywhere, and I’m always trying to be on top of my game for him. I’m thankful to have him as a coach.”

Juwann Winfree is showing out because he’s finally Juwann Winfree.

“It’s the healthiest I’ve been since,” he said before a long pause, “ever.”

“Hell yeah,” he added of if he can feel that translate to the field. “I just feel so much better; my body is able to withstand so much more. I’m able to push myself even further… I have the resources now to provide myself with all I need to stay healthy, the right diet—I changed up my diet. I’m taking way more recovery stuff and just doing way more things to make sure I stay healthy, so my body is just feeling way better.”

As the real Juwann Winfree is finally shining through, the young wide receiver’s innate route running ability and strong hands are on full display. Since camp opened on Thursday, the young gun has made multiple big plays, including a diving catch, a sliding catch and a leaping catch.

“I’m just way more confident now that I’m healthy,” he said with a mile-wide smile that he maintained throughout the interview. “I feel that I’m finally myself. I can finally do everything that I’m able to do. My confidence is off the charts, my mentality is great, and I feel that I’m going to get better every day.”

The instant breakout has resulted in first-team reps, which he’s taken advantage of, and praise from teammates.

“He’s making plays, that’s how you stick around here,” said fellow Buff Phillip Lindsay a guy who knows a thing or two about sticking around. “I’m really proud of him.”

“He’s smooth. He’s that smooth route runner,” added DaeSean Hamilton. “His strides are smooth, but he has a little quick twitch to him. He’s like a bigger guy with a smaller guy’s type of quickness at the same time.”

“Juwann is out there making major snags,” chimed in Dalton Risner. “I am so proud of him. He’s an awesome, awesome football player.”

When you boil it all down, there’s a fine line between a reach and a steal, and so far Winfree is pushing hard on the “steal” side of the scale.

“It’s been a long road, but one thing that’s never left me is my confidence, my faith and my work ethic,” he explained with a look of determination. “I’m going to continue to rely on that. I’m here now, so I’m just going to continue to rely on that and see where it gets me… I’m going to try to have an impact. I know I will whenever I get the opportunity, so it’s just a matter of being ready for that chance.”

He paused and took a deep breath, before looking out toward the field he’s been proving himself on.

“It’s going to come.”


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