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Meet Kendall Hinton, the unlikeliest NFL starting QB in decades

Henry Bushnell
·4-min read

On Sunday afternoon, in Week 12 of the weirdest NFL season ever, the Denver Broncos will take to their home field without a quarterback. So they’ll reportedly turn to a practice squad wide receiver who has never played an NFL snap.

And who, one month ago, was working a normal-person job.

And who, when he last did anything resembling quarterbacking in 2018, completed two of eight passes for 2 yards – and one interception.

From left, Denver Broncos wide receivers Tyrie Cleveland, Kendall Hinton and Diontae Spencer greet each other before taking part in drills at the team's NFL football training camp Friday, Aug. 14, 2020, in Englewood, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Kendall Hinton, center, shown during training camp, was a practice squad wide receiver for the Denver Broncos as of Saturday afternoon. On Sunday, he could be a starting QB. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

With Denver’s entire QBs room ineligible due to COVID-19 contact tracing, the team will likely use Kendall Hinton, a former quarterback at Wake Forest and Southern Durham (N.C.) High School whom the Broncos signed to their practice squad earlier this month.

"He's gon’ be getting a lot of touches at quarterback," his former high school coach, Adrian Jones, told Yahoo Sports Saturday night, shortly after speaking with one of Hinton’s family members.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport also reported that Hinton “will play plenty at QB tomorrow.” 9News’ Mike Klis later confirmed that Hinton “will be the Broncos starting QB.”

It will, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, be the first time in 55 years that an NFL team has started a non-QB under center. But Hinton is more qualified than you might think.

Kendall Hinton’s background, from Wake to Broncos

Hinton transitioned to wide receiver late in a topsy-turvy career at Wake. Until then, he was a dual-threat quarterback. As a freshman, he started two games and played in nine before mononucleosis ended his season. He appeared to be the Demon Deacons’ QB of the future.

But an ankle injury spoiled his sophomore year. He spent most of his redshirt sophomore season as a backup. He was slated to start as a junior, but got suspended, lost the starting QB gig, and moved to receiver. As a senior, he caught 73 passes for 1,001 yards, and wideout became his path to the NFL.

Hinton went undrafted, and signed on with the Broncos. He hung around in Denver through training camp, and impressed. Then he was waived on cutdown day. While out of the league for over a month, according to Jones, Hinton worked “some kind of sales” job.

The Broncos re-signed him to their practice squad on Nov. 4. Now, three-and-a-half weeks later, his football journey will come full circle against the New Orleans Saints.

Hinton’s high school stardom

Before Wake, Hinton starred at Southern Durham. His crowning achievement was a North Carolina state title. As a junior, Jones said, Hinton “was the best quarterback in the state.” Down 21-0 in the 2013 3-AA championship game, he led a furious comeback. Trailing 31-30 with 1:08 to play, he tossed an 80-yard touchdown to cap a stunning 38-31 victory.

His whole high school career was one of stardom. As a freshman, according to Jones, Hinton started ahead of, or at least split time with, a senior. Over four years, he ripped up defenses with both his right arm and his legs. At 5-foot-10, he was pegged by Rivals as a three-star prospect.

“If Kendall was 6-1 or better, he probably would've been one of the best quarterbacks in the nation,” Jones raved.

At Southern Durham, Hinton commanded a spread attack. “We had some RPOs, some reads, some zone reads, where he could pull it,” Jones said. At Wake as well, he hurt opponents with his arm and his legs.

Overall, however, his performances at QB were pedestrian:

(Wake Forest)
(Wake Forest)
(Wake Forest)
(Wake Forest)

The Broncos, in all likelihood, won’t ask him to be Drew Lock, much less Lamar Jackson or Patrick Mahomes. They won’t ask him to be his opposite number on Sunday, Taysom Hill – though there are some similarities between the two. After all, Hinton’s last touchdown pass was over three years ago. His last practice as a quarterback was two years ago.

But unlike Royce Freeman, the Broncos’ other emergency QB, Hinton at least has some relevant experience.

“Whatever the Broncos are good at – that kid is very smart, it don't take him long to [learn an offense],” Jones said of Hinton. “He has a hell of an arm, he's athletic, he's mobile. ... You gon' see some good things out of that kid tomorrow.”

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