ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Kendall Hinton is no longer just the practice squad receiver who was promoted to quarterback last November when all of Denver’s regular QBs landed in COVID-19 quarantine.
He’s not just the training camp long-shot who lined up at defensive back this summer to try to make the roster any way he could.
”He is a receiver,” coach Vic Fangio said.
“I’m willing to play wherever I can to help the team and to make the team better,” said Hinton, who caught his first NFL touchdown pass last weekend. “I have fun on the football field, so it doesn’t matter what position or where I’m at. I just want to play football.”
Hinton caught a 2-yard TD toss from Teddy Bridgewater and he added a 23-yard catch that gave Denver a first-and-goal with a chance to tie things up at Pittsburgh before the Broncos (3-2) lost for the second straight week.
“The light came on,” Fangio said. “He wasn’t a receiver in college. He’s gotten the benefit of being on the practice squad for a couple years. Learning takes guys time. Now, he can actually call himself an NFL wide receiver, and not somebody that was an ex-quarterback or ex-something trying to play receiver.”
Hinton was a quarterback at Wake Forest from 2015-18 but he made just five starts. At 6 feet and 195 pounds, he knew his best chance to make it in the NFL was to catch passes, not throw them.
So, he switched to receiver and caught 73 passes for 1,001 yards and four touchdowns his final year in college.
He signed with the Broncos as an undrafted free agent but didn’t come close to making the roster. The Broncos brought him back, however, on Nov. 4 to their practice squad.
Three and a half weeks later, Hinton was relaxing at home following a Saturday walkthrough prior to the Saints game when he got an urgent call to return to team headquarters and take some snaps.
The Broncos had just learned all their QBs were ineligible
So, Hinton stepped in and completed three throws in nine attempts. OK, two of them were to the Saints, but he still earned even his opponents’ respect that day.
Twenty-four hours later, he was back on the practice squad while his wristbands and the play call sheet from the game ended up on a display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
His grandparents visited the museum in Canton, Ohio, last month to see the artifacts.
“They said it was a great experience,” Hinton said. “They got a tour around the building. I’m sure they got some love in there and it’s probably unexpected. They said they got pictures taken and had a few conversations. I was happy to see them get out of their shell a little bit and end up on Twitter.”
Meanwhile, their grandson was rising up the receiver ranks in Denver, where Jerry Jeudy (ankle) and KJ Hamler (knee) ended up on IR.
Hinton was promoted to the active roster after opening week this season and made his NFL receiving debut at Jacksonville, catching one pass for 15 yards.
He caught another for 13 yards against Baltimore and his two grabs last week give him four receptions for 53 yards.
Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said that in Hinton this summer he saw a “young player who committed himself to improving. And you know, he has a feel for playing receiver.”
“He’ll be in there until we get Jerry Jeudy back” next month.
Hinton said he first realized he could make it as a receiver in the NFL during the offseason when his hard work started paying off — and getting noticed.
“With the pandemic, it was such a crazy year. I had no idea what I was coming into, and I didn’t know what to expect,” Hinton said. “The receiver role was fairly new. … But this past offseason, I knew the points I had to get better at. I knew my weak spots. I just took the time this offseason to really grind and pick up those points.”
He still pinches himself, though.
“Every day, I wake up and it’s crazy—I’m playing in the NFL,” Hinton said. “It’s such a blessing, such an honor. Every day it’s wild. This journey continues, and through all the bumps in the road, I’m so appreciative of where I’m at now.”
Hinton said he never thought his emergency fill-in role at QB last year would be his one and only opportunity.
“I knew that’d probably be my last game as a quarterback,” he said, laughing. “But no, no, no. I knew there was a lot of work to do. I feel like I have a lot of potential to just continue to develop. You never know where you’re going to be.”