Brett Rypien calls breakthrough to Broncos’ initial 53-man roster “unbelievable”


Brett Rypien got a text from Nathaniel Hackett to come into the team facility Tuesday, and assumed the worst.

The fourth-year quarterback figured he was about to hear the same bad news he heard his prior three cut-down days: That he was being waived, and the team hoped to bring him back on the practice squad.

Instead, Rypien got a surprise when his head coach informed him that he made the Broncos’ initial 53-man roster for the first time in his career. Rypien beat out journeyman veteran Josh Johnson for the right to back up Russell Wilson.

“I thought I was getting cut, to be honest with you,” Rypien said. “I know how this business works and I think you always have to expect the worst, so when Coach Hackett told me the news, I was excited to say the least.”

The 26-year-old, who signed with the Broncos as an undrafted free agent out of Boise State in 2019, called his breakthrough to the 53-man this year “unbelievable.” After a decorated college career in which Rypien finished as the Mountain West’s all-time leader in passing yards, completions and 300-yard passing games, he’s had to earn his place in the NFL.

He spent 2019 on the practice squad, then got his first and only start in 2020, beating the Jets on the road in Week 3. Rypien was 19-of-31 with two touchdowns and three interceptions in that 37-28 victory. He’s appeared in four games total, including one last year, but said a steady focus helped him play well down the stretch this preseason.

“That Buffalo week changed it all for me (by engineering a couple late scoring drives) and I was able to get an opportunity (to start) against Minnesota,” Rypien said.

Hackett said Rypien “edged (Johnson) out a little bit” from the consistency standpoint. Johnson was signed to Denver’s practice squad Wednesday.

“Both those guys did a really good job, and it was a very hard decision for all of us and our entire staff,” Hackett said.

Rypien was one of several on the roster bubble who saw their NFL dreams materialize Tuesday. Two other notables were wideout Jalen Virgil and outside linebacker/special teamer Aaron Patrick.

Virgil, a speedy receiver who can also play special teams, made the roster as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Appalachian State. GM George Paton said Tuesday that Virgil “aced” every test the Broncos threw at him, including nine catches for 180 yards over three preseason games.

Add in the fact that Virgil and his girlfriend, Maddie Lewis, are expecting a son Sept. 9, and the accomplishment of making the 53-man roster is even more “surreal” to the wideout. With Virgil on the team, at least one rookie free agent has made the Broncos’ initial roster in 18 out of the last 19 seasons.

“It’s a lot of excitement right now,” Virgil said. “I’m trying to take it day-by-day and (cherish it) — the fact that I get to play in the NFL and become a father all at once, because it’s two dreams I always had.”

Virgil said he proved his speed “translates over to the NFL level.” Hackett agreed, and Virgil’s wheels — rivaled only on the team by fellow wideout KJ Hamler — were a big factor in the rookie’s roster spot.

“He showed throughout the preseason that when the ball was thrown his way, he was going to make an electric catch and he was going make a play,” Hackett said. “In the end, he continually did that and it wasn’t just one game, it was all three games and he has a lot of speed. It’s always hard to find speed, especially with a big, strong guy like that.”

Patrick, who was signed by the Broncos last September and played 72% of the special teams snaps across 12 games in 2021, was the beneficiary of Denver trading Malik Reed to the Steelers. Patrick vowed that he’s “coming to work every day” to help those special teams improve across the board under first-year coordinator Dwayne Stukes.

“There’s a lot of eyes on us right now,” Patrick said of the Broncos, who have five prime time games this year starting with Week 1 in Seattle on Monday Night Football. “It’s special to be a part of it… We understand the expectations from outside looking in and also the expectations of ourselves. That goes for every guy on the roster, from (Wilson) to the bottom of the 53.”


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