By Zack Kelberman
(247 SPORTS) – Things are veering from disappointing to dire for Carlos Henderson.
The sophomore wide receiver missed Wednesday’s minicamp practice with what Broncos head coach Vance Joseph termed a hamstring injury. Worse yet, Joseph essentially plopped Henderson on the hot seat, strongly suggesting his roster spot is in jeopardy.
“He’s got a hamstring. It started in Phase 2 and hasn’t gotten better,” said Joseph. “He’s got to get back on the field if he wants to make this football team.”
You’d think Joseph would’ve learned from Shane Ray that forcing injured players to participate in wholly insignificant practices does harm, not good. Publicly urging Henderson to exert himself now, with mini-camp ending Thursday and a six-week break upcoming, doesn’t make a lick of sense, especially since hamstrings are among the most notoriously nagging maladies in sports.
Perhaps this was Joseph’s roundabout way of motivating Henderson, the team’s third-round draft pick in 2017 whose NFL career couldn’t have gotten off to a more dubious start; he spent his entire rookie campaign on injured reserve then was arrested in January for possession of marijuana.
Joseph is showing the toughest of love by lumping Henderson in with relative-unknown receiver Kenny Bell, who also sat out practice.
“Same deal there. Kenny, he’s been nicked also all offseason,” he said. “Again, you can’t make the football team on the sideline, so those guys have got to get back on the field, especially in that room. It’s a competitive room and it’s a full room. If you’re not practicing, your chances of making the team are slim to none.”
There’s some truth here, however. As the old adage goes, “you can’t make the club in the tub.” Henderson was already well behind the proverbial eight-ball following a year of inactivity, and his hopes of creating a niche for himself took a massive hit with the addition of rookie WRs Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton, both of whom have thoroughly impressed thus far.
Henderson, a former star at small-school Louisiana Tech, was drafted because he possesses theoretical playmaking ability. His blazing wheels (4.46 forty-yard dash time) appealed to a team desperate to infuse “juice” into the offense and special teams. And it wasn’t long ago — less than three months — that Henderson was talked up as someone the Broncos are depending upon as a slot weapon for new starting quarterback Case Keenum.
“We’re counting on that kid to come in and play for us, especially in the slot,” Joseph said in March. “Or even ‘E’ goes to the slot and [Carlos] goes outside. Someone has to go into the slot and win the 1-on-1s so we can get fair coverages on third downs.”
But things change quickly at the professional level, where there’s always a younger, more talented or hungrier player ready to climb the depth chart. Sutton and Hamilton check all three of those boxes and indisputably have leapfrogged over Henderson.
The Broncos are likely to keep six wideouts on the final, 53-man roster. Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Sutton and Hamilton are locks. Jordan Taylor will compete once he returns from hip surgery and Isaiah McKenzie is fighting for his professional life. This leaves Henderson in no man’s land as a high-round selection potentially facing the unemployment line.