Broncos wide receiver KJ Hamler, 23, partially tore his pectoral muscle while working out, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. Hamler has already undergone surgery to repair the torn pec and may be back for the start of training camp. Hamler has only played in 23 of a potential 50 games during his three-year NFL career because of injuries. His rookie contract is set to expire after this season.

Multiple hamstring injuries kept Hamler off the field during his rookie season in 2020. A concussion ended his season. The hamstring flared up again during the offseason. He tore his ACL and suffered a major hip injury in 2021, which limited him to three games. In 2022, his hamstring held him to seven games.

When he’s been on the field, Hamler has been the Broncos’ top deep threat. He hasn’t provided a lot of plays, but he’s provided a few key plays that prove he’s capable of living up to his second-round-pick status.

So where does that leave the Broncos?

The top three receivers are set in stone. Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick are the core pieces in the passing game and that’s unlikely to change, unless one of them is traded away. The race for depth chart positioning starts with the fourth spot.

If Hamler is back for training camp, he’ll be the heavy favorite to land the fourth wide receiver job. If he isn’t back, the Broncos will be short on options. Even if Hamler is good to go, his injury history suggests he may not be around for the majority of the season.

Having a capable No. 4 receiver doesn’t sound like a pressing need, but the fourth option will see the field plenty. Last season, the receiver who was on the field the fourth-most in any given week played a little more than 16% of the offensive snaps on average. And that’s before factoring in any injuries that could keep one of the top three receivers out of a game and bump everybody up the depth chart. The expectation should be that the Broncos’ fourth receiver will be on the field for about one in five offensive plays.

For reference, here’s who the rest of the AFC West carried into last season as their fourth receiver:

Kansas City: Skyy Moore, 2nd round rookie

Los Angeles: Jalen Guyton, over 950 receiving yards combined during the previous two seasons

Las Vegas: Keelan Cole, over 1,000 receiving yards combined during the previous two seasons

That’s one highly-drafted rookie and two proven NFL receivers.

The Broncos don’t need to hit a home run at WR4, but it’s worth looking at the landscape and understanding what the norm is. Hamler would be a great fourth option if he was healthy, but his track record makes that unlikely. Kendall Hinton is now in line for the job, but he’s a better bet for the fifth spot.

The Broncos could use a proven, albeit modest, veteran option. Or they could choose to take a swing at receiver with one of their earlier draft picks.

Here’s what the wide receiver depth chart looks like behind Hamler as of today…

Kendall Hinton, 26 — Hinton made his NFL debut in 2020, when he served as emergency quarterback after the Broncos’ quarterbacks room was hit by Covid. He didn’t see the field again until 2021, when he played in nearly every game and provided 15 catches for 175 yards. His role expanded in 2022 thanks to a number of injuries to Broncos receivers, and he caught 24 passes for 311 yards while starting five games.

Hinton has lined up all over the field out of desperation but he’s at his best in the slot, where his lack of physical tools can be balanced by his steady hands and solid route-running ability. Hinton was also the Broncos’ backup plan at returner in 2022 but played sparingly on other special teams units.

Lil’Jordan Humphrey, 24 — Signed by the Broncos this offseason, Humphrey appears to be the hand-picked depth receiver for Sean Payton. That doesn’t mean he’s a lock to make the team, though.

Humphrey signed with the Saints as an undrafted free agent in 2019 and spent his first two seasons bouncing between the practice squad and the active roster. His breakout came in 2021, when he appeared in 10 games, caught 15 passes, picked up 249 yards and scored two touchdowns. He participated in the kick return unit when active, but only picked up spot duty in other units. Humphrey started the 2022 season with the Patriots but finished the year as a free agent.

Montrell Washington, 24 — A fifth-round pick of the Broncos last year, Washington was brought in to be the team’s returner. He lost that job late in the year. He was also a core member of the field goal block unit.

Washington wasn’t given many opportunities as a receiver—he caught four passes for two yards—but he was given the ball as a runner five times and picked up 30 yards. The new regime may see more value in the 5-foot-10 receiver’s speed and shiftiness.

Jalen Virgil, 24 — The undrafted rookie out of Appalachian State made the Broncos’ 53-man roster out of training camp and stuck around for the whole season. The injury to Tim Patrick in training camp and further injuries to receivers during the season opened the door for him.

Virgil only caught two balls, but one of them was a 66-yard touchdown. When given a uniform, Virgil was a key special teams player. That should come as no surprise, since he’s 6-feet-tall and 210 pounds but can run a 4.40 40-yard dash.

Brandon Johnson, 24 — Another undrafted rookie, Johnson could just as easily have made the Broncos’ roster out of training camp, but an injury kept him out of the equation. When he returned to the field, he appeared in seven games and caught six balls for 42 yards and a touchdown. Johnson hardly played special teams, except for limited work in kick coverage.


Henry was born in Columbia Falls, Montana and graduated from Columbia Falls High School in 2015. He earned bachelor's degrees in journalism and economics from the University of Montana in 2019. After graduation, he joined DNVR. He spent three years covering the University of Colorado before moving to the Broncos beat ahead of the 2022 season. Henry joined DNVR as a remote staff writer in 2017, providing support to BSN's Broncos beat reporters. He interned at DNVR headquarters in the summer of 2018 and accepted a full-time position after graduating from UM. Follow Henry on Twitter - @HenryChisholm