Broncos eager to see if rookies will fill wide receiver void

The highlights from newest Bronco Troy Franklin (0:43)

Check out the highlights from the Broncos' newest wide receiver Troy Franklin (0:43)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Coming off an 8-9 season, the Denver Broncos' decision-makers liked their depth chart at wide receiver -- until they didn't.

After holding firm in their resolve not to accept any trade offers for Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton last season, Jeudy was dealt to the Cleveland Browns in March. The Broncos then signed free agent receiver Josh Reynolds and used two of their seven 2024 draft picks on wide receivers.

"I think you slowly build your roster in the offseason,'' Broncos coach Sean Payton said. " ... Each time we talk about a player, we talk about a vision. I think it's just ongoing."

The Broncos wanted Oregon wide receiver Troy Franklin enough to move up to the top of Day 3 of the draft to get him at pick No. 102, the second selection of the fourth round. And when the first of their two seventh-round picks rolled around (No. 235), Broncos general manager George Paton said Utah wide receiver Devaughn Vele, who will turn 27 late in his rookie season and was one of the oldest players on the board, was "too talented to pass up."

The two will get their first significant on-field work -- and the Broncos coaches their first significant on-field look -- this weekend during rookie minicamp.

But couple the pair's arrival with Marvin Mims Jr.'s selection in the second round of the 2023 draft, and the Broncos have continued trying to dial up solutions at the position. And they have certainly been down this road before. The Broncos have drafted a receiver in each of the past eight drafts and have used 13 picks on wide receivers in that span.

The Broncos have one Pro Bowl season and one 1,000-yard season to show for it -- both by Sutton in 2019.

The Broncos graded Franklin well above where they selected him, according to Payton, and they moved quickly on Day 3 to get him. Payton texted Paton in the hours before the fourth round began about the need to move up to make the pick. At 6-foot-1 7/8-inches and 176 pounds, Franklin was one of the fastest receivers at the scouting combine with a 4.41-second time in the 40-yard dash.

He had eight 100-yard games and 14 touchdowns last season with fellow Broncos rookie Bo Nix as quarterback for Oregon. Payton said he sees Franklin as a smooth "Z" receiver fit in his offense, usually lined up off the ball a bit with the expectation he will stress defenses vertically.

"He is real quick out of his cuts," Payton said. "Some players, maybe versus bump and run, that can be problematic. Some players excel versus it. He is one of those guys that has really quick feet and he can run.''

Payton envisions Vele as "kind of a big slot'' receiver, a "Tim Patrick-type player.'' If things go as the Broncos hope, the two rookies will work themselves into the rotation by September.

"I really think all parts of my game are pretty sharp,'' Franklin said. "I think I can do everything. Obviously, I know with my frame that I need to put a little bit more weight on and stuff like that. That is going to get fixed."

But right now, very little is formally sorted out.

With Jeudy's exit, Mims, who played just 384 snaps on offense on the way to a Pro Bowl selection as a returner last season, is expected to get the bulk of Jeudy's reps. Patrick has missed back-to-back seasons with injuries (a torn ACL in 2022, a torn Achilles in 2023) and is expected to be back in the mix as well.

There is also some uncertainty about Sutton's role, at least until he is in the facility with his teammates. Sutton, who was quarterback Russell Wilson's favorite red zone target last season, has not been among the veteran players participating in the Broncos' offseason program.

Sutton was easily the team's WR1 last season with 10 of the team's 28 receiving touchdowns -- no other player had more than four. He has also drawn trade interest since last season.

And while Sutton has made social media references to frustration as well as being where he is wanted, the Broncos have publicly said there aren't issues. Sutton is in the third year of a four-year extension he signed during the 2021 season.

"I mean, [phase one of the offseason program] is 100 percent voluntary,'' Paton said. " ... Sean has talked to Courtland; I've talked to Courtland. He's in a good place, and I'll just leave it at that.''

In the end, the Broncos will find out how much their two newest arrivals will play as they try to find out who will be the one throwing them the ball.

"But we like our group,'' Paton said. " ... I think we feel fortunate to have gotten them where we did and get them with us.''