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Is it time to press the panic button on Carlos Henderson?

Ryan Koenigsberg Avatar
June 14, 2018

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — We’ve been waiting for it since the moment No. 11 took the field a rookie mini camp last year.

That moment. That catch. That anything.

It still hasn’t come.

As a third-round pick in 2017, Carlos Henderson came into Denver with big expectations. He averaged 18.7 yards per catch at Louisiana Tech. His 48 missed tackles forced were the most in the country, as were his 19 receiving touchdowns. He might as well have been a speedy running back with the hands and route-running skills of a receiver. He was the juice they needed.

As things stand on June 14, 2018—more than a year since he set foot on the field at the UC Health Training Center for the first time—it still hasn’t translated.

Last year, Henderson struggled to make any sort of impact in training camp and in his first and only preseason game, he fumbled two kickoffs. It was later revealed that he injured his thumb in that game and that thumb injury, which required surgery, held him out of his entire rookie season.

Then came this offseason, sprinkled with impressive workout videos on Instagram but overshadowed by an off-the-field incident in which he was arrested in Louisiana on a marijuana charge.

That brings us to a few weeks ago and the beginning of Organized Team Activities, a chance to put all of that behind him, start showing out and begin his journey down the path to contributing. Unfortunately for the talented young wideout, that hasn’t been the case.

On the first day of OTAs, Henderson was seen on the sideline during team drills, and even though the reasoning was never revealed, it served as a harbinger of things to come. When he did get on the field, he struggled to make an impact. While working mostly with the second and third teams, the second-year receiver was overshadowed by not only the bigger names like rookie receivers Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton, but even guys like John Diarse, Tim Patrick and Kenny Bell. In fact, by our unofficial count, in the six practices that were open to media, Henderson made fewer plays than any of the 13 receivers on the roster.

Of course, it’s important to note that Henderson only participated in the team drills of three of those practices, but that presents a problem in itself.

“He’s got a hamstring,” head coach Vance Joseph said after practice on Wednesday. “It started in phase two and hasn’t gotten better. So he’s got to get back on the field if he wants to make this football team.”

“You can’t make the football team on the sideline, so those guys have to get back on the field,” Joseph continued. “Especially in that [WR] room, it’s a competitive room, it’s a full room. If you’re not practicing, your chances of making the team are slim… to none.”

Slim to none. With the “to none” part of that sentence getting the heavy emphasis from Joseph. Remember, this is a third-round draft pick we’re talking about here. In normal cases, this could be written off as a coach trying to light a fire under a young player, but this is not a normal case.

The Broncos have an unusually congested traffic jam at receiver this season and of the 13—yes, 13—pass catchers they currently have on the roster, they will likely only keep six. Four of those six are already locked in—Emmanuel Sanders, Demaryius Thomas, Courland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton—that leaves two spots for nine players—Carlos Henderson, Isaiah Mckenzie, Jordan Taylor, Kenny Bell, Tim Patrick, John Diarse, Jimmy Williams, Jordan Leslie and River Cracraft.

On paper, it would seem as if those two spots come down to three players—Henderson, McKenzie and Taylor—but to say that would be to discount the fact that every single one of the other six players has displayed real value during the offseason program. Diarse has insanely good hands and a unique body at 6-foot-1 and 214 pounds, Patrick has garnered praise and is a red-zone threat at 6-foot-5, Bell went an entire practice where it seemed Paxton Lynch only threw to him, Williams brought down two touchdowns on Wednesday afternoon, Leslie has made some impressive catches in traffic and Cracraft consistently finds ways to get open.

All the while, Henderson has been quiet.

Is it time to hammer the panic button on Henderson? Maybe not, but it’s fair to place your hand directly that button from the moment training camp begins in just over a month. The once-prized draft selection will be in a steep uphill battle to make the 53-man roster, and John Elway’s too-loyal-too-his-draft-picks reputation is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

Come late July, it’ll be up to Henderson to shape up or ship out.

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