After replacing the Broncos emergency quarterback in last year’s 31-3 loss to New Orleans, Kendall Hinton knew his performance – 1 of 9 passes for 13 yards and two interceptions – n ‘ was not going to warrant another shot throwing the Bullet.
But that experience of being thrown into the fire as an undrafted rookie only emboldened his goals in the NFL. After converting from QB to wideout at Wake Forest, then spending 2020 as a wideout on the Broncos’ practice squad, Hinton gained increased playing time following injuries to Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler. .
“I knew (the New Orleans game) would probably be my last game as a quarterback,” Hinton said Wednesday. “But I also knew there was a lot of work to be done offshore… I knew I had potential and that if I kept developing, you never know where you’re going to be.”
This long-term tunnel vision is already bearing fruit. After a strong training camp and preseason, the Broncos signed the undrafted second-year pro on their practice squad; he was then promoted to the active roster on September 14, two days after Jeudy suffered a sprained ankle in the season opener.
Hinton recorded his first NFL catch that week, a 15-yard reception in the win over Jacksonville. He added another catch in Week 4 against Baltimore and two more last Sunday in Pittsburgh, both of which came as the Broncos rallied in the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater found Hinton for the NFL’s first scoring fourth at the start of the fourth quarter, reducing the Steelers’ lead to 24-13. Hinton caught a 23-yard catch in the 3rd and 5th at the end of the quarter, putting the Broncos in the red zone on their last practice. The catch came with a game Hinton failed to portray in practice.
“I was the quarterback’s first read anyway, and I just broke,” Hinton said. “I grabbed it and (it was like) I was going in slow motion, so I could put my head down to see where my feet were. I saw that I had enough space to put the second foot in it.
Although Denver did not end up scoring as the rally failed in the 27-19 loss, Hinton’s grip in that last practice – which came close to the left sideline with Hinton ahead tap dancing to stay within limits – is proof of the “steady progress” coach Vic Fangio has seen in the open sea.
“Since he wasn’t a receiver (most of the time) in college, he had the advantage of being on the practice squad last year and learning,” Fangio said. “Now he can actually call himself an NFL wide receiver, not someone who’s a former quarterback trying to play the receiver.”
Hinton said he’s starting to really believe in his ability to excel as a broad in OTAs this year. Last year he faced a huge learning curve.
“I had no idea what I was going to do (last year),” Hinton said. “The role of receiver was pretty new and I wasn’t sure what I needed to be great. But in the last offseason, I knew the points I needed to improve on, I knew my weak points and took that time to grind and focus on those points.
Better road running and a deeper understanding of offense were high on Hinton’s work list, whose jersey and crampons from last year’s Week 12 game against New Orleans found themselves at the Professional Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. This fact has added to the craziness of the past 11 months for Hinton, someone Bridgewater describes as a selfless teammate.
“He’s calm, he doesn’t say much, but he comes to work every day and does whatever we ask him to do,” Bridgewater said. “He might have to come in and run five go-routes in a row (to open up other guys), and he won’t complain.”
For his part, Hinton is grateful for his unconventional journey to the pros.
Originally starting part-time as Wake Forest quarterback in first year, Hinton injured in sophomore year (ankle injury) then converted to wide after losing the quarterback battle. back as a junior. In his last college season, he had 73 catches for 1,001 yards in 11 games.
Hinton believes his production this year (four catches for 53 yards) is just the start of what he can do if given the chance. His snapshot count has increased significantly since Hamler’s injury in Week 3 against the Jets. He played 43% of the snaps against the Ravens and 65% against Pittsburgh (up from 7% of the snaps in week 2).
He will appear as a fourth option for Bridgewater on Sunday against Las Vegas, behind spreaders Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick as well as tight end Noah Fant.
“Every day I wake up and think it’s crazy playing in the NFL,” Hinton said. “And every day it’s wild and this journey continues. Through all the bumps in the road I enjoy so much where I am now. It’s good to sit down and enjoy these moments, but also to prepare for the future.