The Denver Broncos Can't Give Up On Tight End A.J. Derby

A.J. Derby had a setback, but Chad Jensen lays out why the young tight end deserves to continue as one of the top pass-catchers.

The NFL is tough. It demands mental and physical fortitude. 

The vast majority of pro football players are the epitome of toughness. They encompass what it means to be an elite athlete. 

The players who do not cultivate mental toughness, however, fall to the wayside and are out of the league before they can blink twice. We're about to find out just how tough Denver Broncos tight end A.J. Derby truly is. The Broncos acquired Derby via trade from the New England Patriots earlier this season, and he has already risen up the depth chart to become Denver's top pass-catching tight end. 

Each week, he's gotten better. Last Sunday vs. the Tennessee Titans, he was having a career day. Derby hauled in five receptions, on five targets, for 57 yards. 

Unfortunately, on that fifth reception, he was stripped of the ball and it cost the Broncos the opportunity to come from behind and win the game. Afterward, you could see how shocked he was, on his knees at the Denver 40-yard line. 

Then something very cool happened. Center Matt Paradis walked over to him, put his hands on Derby's shoulder pads, and helped him to his feet. From there, the big trenchman consoled his young teammate, patting him on the helmet with encouragement. 

That's the type of teammate Paradis is. But Derby had a rough plane ride home from Tennessee.

“[It was] definitely a sleepless night last night," Derby said Monday. "I’m really pissed about that. It’s unacceptable. I can’t put the ball on the ground. They trusted me in the situation and that can’t happen.” 

Hist teammates clearly still believe in him and the guy who draws up the plays and decides the depth chart has no plans to go away from Derby. “He’s been a nice addition to our team," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said Monday. "He’s been playing for us six, seven weeks. He’s made some good plays for us. We need to continue to use him. He’s done a lot of good things in the game. He has to put the ball away and that type of thing. We need him and we need him making plays for us. I think he’s shown the ability to do that.”

With New England next up on the schedule, Derby is in a unique position to benefit his team with some intel on the Patriots offense. And he's willing to dish when his coaches ask. 

“If they do [approach me], then yes," Derby said. "I remember everything. I have a good memory (laughs).”

Ultimately, Derby slipped up in the clutch, fumbling away Denver's opportunity to win a tough one on the road. But it's a lesson he's not soon to forget. 

There's no question that Derby has upgraded Denver's tight end group, giving quarterback Trevor Siemian a reliable security blanket he can target underneath and over the middle. On the season, Derby's hauled in 12 of his 14 targets for 125 yards (10.4 avg.).

I honestly believe has a great career ahead of him. For now, A.J. Derby's got to learn what this harsh lesson has to teach, and then he's got to put it behind him and focus on helping to take down the team who drafted him in the sixth round last year. 

Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.

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