ENGLEWOOD – After Brandon Marshall was traded, the Denver Broncos needed a new go-to receiver. Eddie Royal is still a popular name among fans. Then first-round pick Demaryius Thomas was tabbed as Marshall’s replacement, because of physical similarities.
None of this should surprise, or seems to matter, to Jabar Gaffney. He’ll turn 30 years old in December but has never led a team in receiving over his eight seasons. Yet, he seems the clear choice to be the Broncos’ leading receiver this year.
Gaffney had more than twice as many yards as Royal last year, even though for most of the season Royal had a bigger role in the offense. Thomas hasn’t even practiced yet as he recovers from foot surgery, and the track record for rookie receivers isn’t great.
Gaffney has a great opportunity in the post-Marshall era, but he isn’t getting too excited about it.
“It’s another chance to go out here and play the game,” Gaffney said. “Hopefully I can go out and get a couple more plays or whatever, but I just love to go out and play regardless.”
Gaffney was probably underutilized last season. He was mostly a third receiver behind Marshall and Royal for 14 weeks. Then in the final two weeks, with Royal out of both games and Marshall deactivated for the finale, he had 21 catches for 282 yards and two touchdowns. In 14 games, Royal had 345 yards and no touchdowns.
Gaffney won’t produce at that pace over a full season, but he could easily beat his career best of 732 yards set last year. His first 1,000-yard season seems like a possibility in an offense that relied almost exclusively on Marshall over the second half of last season. Gaffney’s 213-yard game against the Chiefs in the finale, 1 yard short of tying Shannon Sharpe’s franchise record, showed what he is capable of.
“The last two I just went out like I do every game,” Gaffney said. “I got a couple more opportunities, especially the last game with Brandon and Eddie not playing, and tried to take advantage of it.”
Whether any Broncos receiver will get to 1,000 yards is up for debate, however. The Broncos like to use multiple receivers, and when Josh McDaniels’ offense is running as it should, nobody hogs the catches as Marshall did last year.
“I hope that we have a lot of guys that end up being our No. 1 receiver at different times during the year,” McDaniels said. “A tight end that catches 10 balls, two different receivers that can catch that many balls during the course of the season on a certain week.”
The Broncos might not revert to forcing the ball to one receiver, as they did when Marshall caught 68 balls and nobody else got more than 19 over Marshall’s final eight games. But if Gaffney can replicate what he did against the Chiefs, he’ll have plenty of chances.
“I always felt like I can play in this league and am capable of games like that,” Gaffney said. “If situations call for it, I hope I can go out and duplicate that success.”
Contact the writer at 476-4891