Broncos receiver Jalen Virgil’s time has arrived
With his TD last week, the rookie became the first Broncos receiver to score in his debut since Demaryius Thomas in 2010
It was dark, and finally quiet, when Jalen Virgil got back to his apartment late Sunday after his NFL debut in Tennessee earlier in the day. It finally let what happened all soak in.
The Broncos lost, but Virgil won. The undrafted rookie receiver hauled in a 66-yard touchdown on his first target in the NFL, showcasing his game-breaking speed in the 17-10 defeat.
“When I finally got back to my apartment, I sat down and I put my phone down for a second because there was a lot of action going on on my phone,” Virgil said. “I just sat there and thought about how amazing that play was and how amazing (my journey) has been.”
Virgil’s life has been in hyperdrive since the Broncos signed him in May as an undrafted free agent out of Appalachian State. He lasted with the team through the summer and into training camp. From there, he impressed coaches during practice and in preseason action, when he had nine catches for 180 yards across three games.
But Virgil’s whirlwind was just getting going.
Virgil made the team’s 53-man roster out of training camp after general manager George Paton said the receiver “checked every box” amid a crowded competition. Less than a week after making the team, Virgil and his girlfriend, Maddie Lewis, welcomed son Kylan into the world on Sept. 5.
Virgil was there for Kylan’s birth in Charlotte at 2:50 a.m. on Labor Day, then caught a plane back to Denver that morning to rejoin the team. That’s when the grind really started. Virgil was inactive for the first seven games, biding his time as a scout team player. The prelude to his Week 10 touchdown came in London, when he was active but didn’t play in the Broncos’ comeback win over the Jaguars.
“It was good to dress out, be in that uniform again, and just feel
that energy on the sideline,” Virgil said. “Obviously I didn’t play a role in the win, but that was a nice way for me to ease into what happened last game.”
Against the Titans, Virgil broke the defensive stalemate and put the Broncos up 7-0 in the second quarter when quarterback Russell Wilson audibled at the line of scrimmage to the deep route.
“We were in a bunch alignment to the field side, and Russ saw a certain coverage (he liked), and essentially checked the play to all vertical routes on my side,” Virgil said. “I went out and ran a widened vertical, and the corner kind of lost me in coverage.”
Virgil didn’t have a defender within five yards of him when he caught the ball.
“When I saw the ball in the air, I just told myself, ‘Man, just make sure you catch this ball,’” Virgil said. “It felt like it was in the air for so long. I knew I had a lot of open field in front of me, but I had to make sure I caught it before turning on the jets.”
That’s just what Virgil did, running untouched 40 yards to the end zone. His play drew a hat-tip from Wilson following the loss.
“He has been working his butt off every day and finally got his chance,” Wilson said.
Prior to the game, Virgil planned on doing a dance when he scored, but the emotion of the moment overtook those intentions. Head coach Nathaniel Hackett quipped that Virgil “didn’t know what to do” in his celebration.
“He was very surprised,” Hackett said with a laugh.
Virgil said he “just kind of lost my mind” after jumping across the goal line. Instead of dancing, he repeatedly flexed.
“All my emotions just poured out and it was just like, ‘Damn, I’m here,’” Virgil said. “I felt passion, I felt a weight off my shoulders after finally getting in there. (The dance) went out the window.”
The touchdown marked a coming-out moment for the former Georgia high school track star. Virgil, who also starred in track at Appalachian State, didn’t receive any college football offers until late in his senior year. That was because he was so focused on track, and his football stats weren’t that glitzy.
But at Appalachian State, Virgil emerged as a speedy, big-play threat. He tied the school record with three kickoff returns for touchdowns and produced 15 plays of at least 40 yards or more in his career. That caught the eye of the Broncos, who envisioned him as another guy who could take the top off the defense besides KJ Hamler.
This week, with the Broncos’ receiving room hit hard by injuries, Virgil could be in line for his first NFL start. At the very least, he’ll be in the receiver rotation with Jerry Jeudy (ankle) and Hamler (hamstring) out and Kendall Hinton battling a shoulder injury.
“He’s been behind the scenes, but now you see the injury bug hitting and we expect him to pick it up as far as the reps,” offensive coordinator Justin Outten said. “He’s a very explosive player, as you saw on the touchdown… But he’s young and still learning all the details and the theatrics as far as the alignments and the motions of the offense.”
With his TD last week, Virgil became only the seventh Broncos receiver to score in his debut and the first since Demaryius Thomas in 2010. The play was also the second-longest touchdown from scrimmage by a Denver player in his debut, and longest since receiver Rick Upchurch’s 90-yard score against Kansas City on Sept. 21, 1975.
Virgil’s intent on building upon that history, starting Sunday against the Raiders at Empower Field.
“Whatever happens (Sunday), I’ll be prepared for it,” he said.*