After the final pick of the 2021 NFL Draft was announced, former USF wide receiver DeVontres Dukes was disappointed to find out he had just gone undrafted, a tough pill to swallow for young NFL hopefuls.
In an attempt to clear his mind and remain positive, Dukes took a step outside of his house to read a book and get away from the situation, leaving his phone inside.
Soon after, however, Dukes’ mother came rushing out to him with his phone in hand, alerting him that a number from Denver was calling him. He immediately thought of the Broncos.
“So [my mom] comes and she gives me the phone and she was like ‘It’s Denver,’ so I’m like ‘Oh it’s the Broncos,’” Dukes said. “Like my mind instantly went to the Broncos.
“I don’t know anybody from Denver, I don’t have any family from Denver, I have nothing [in Denver].”
Dukes’ hunch was right. The Broncos reached out and offered him an opportunity to join the team as an undrafted free agent, which he accepted.
Although receiving the call was a culmination of all the hard work he has put in over the years, the interim between the end of the draft and the Broncos contacting him was not easy.
“I kept telling myself, I was like ‘God you know I trust you’ … I just have to be patient and just wait a little bit longer,” Dukes said. “My mind was really playing tug of war, going with the negatives or just trying to stay positive.”
Prior to the draft, Dukes said he didn’t have much correspondence with Denver, but a representative of the team attended his Pro Day on April 1. Dukes said he believes the in-person evaluation played a role in him getting a chance.
“I think [Denver attending my Pro Day] played a big part in it,” Dukes said. “In my eyes, if I’m a scout, if I heard about a guy and I hear that he’s pretty good, I want to come down there and see him.
“I felt like they wanted to see how I move, how well I did and whatnot. I felt like that played a big part in it as well, of them coming to see me and meet me so they can really see firsthand what I’m all about.”
While Dukes’ football ability and 6-foot-4-inch frame likely helped him pop up on the Broncos’ radar, he also said he thought his character was something the team valued.
“Besides my size and what I can do on the field, they also saw I went from being a guy that only played a total of maybe like seven games in three years, or 15 games in three years, to being a guy that became a leader on the team,” Dukes said. “I felt like that stuck out more to them because like I said, all of the receivers [on the Broncos] are great guys.”
The Broncos have a group of young, energetic receivers on the roster with names like Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler highlighting the position. From top to bottom, Dukes said each receiver is willing to help out and give each other tips for success.
Dukes had a chance to fly out to Denver to participate in rookie minicamp from May 14-16, and also made time to meet with his fellow receivers.
“I met all of them, ran through plays, all of us together, I’m still learning from them,” Dukes said. “Like I said I’m in a great place … If we have any doubts on anything, on plays, they’re the ones staying after practice and making sure that we go through it so that when we come back the next day for a different play, we’re not all over the place … That’s all what I’ve seen off of just the first week.
“Just running through plays and actually being around those guys and what they’re about and what the culture is here … they’re setting a great example.”
Beyond his teammates, Dukes said the coaching staff is another reason why he feels so good about where he ended up.
“I feel like this is a great offensive staff, you can just feel the energy with the coaches,” Dukes said. “They want to take care of you more than just running you around and beating you down. They want to make sure that you really get the concepts.
“The first week, last week, Friday and Saturday, we spent … a lot of time going through the plays. … It’s just a vibe that you can feel with this offensive staff and these offensive coaches, they know exactly what they’re doing and I trust them.”
Aside from the color of his jersey changing from USF green to Denver orange, he also had to change the number on it from 18 in college to 84 in the pros.
His decision to choose 84 had a few different motivations, including a connection he has with a legendary NFL receiver.
“I just picked it, I felt like it was the nicest number there,” Dukes said. “Eighty-four because Randy Moss was my position coach. … When I trained for the Pro Day this past January, February, March and April, he was my receivers coach.
“It was pretty cool, I always looked up to Randy Moss, and him being my coach and everything, it felt even better. I kind of broke it down, the 8 is from when I wore 18 in college, and I wore 4 in high school, so 84.”
As the offseason continues, Dukes will try to leave his mark on the team and impress Denver’s coaching staff enough to earn a roster spot.
Until then though, he will look to stay positive and focus on what he can control.
“My mindset the whole time, my body language, everything, is just moving forward [and] just being positive,” Dukes said. “There’s certain things that I can play a part of that can change the outcome, and then there’s some things that you just can’t control, from here all the way up until cuts. If I get cut, make the team, I’m just going to take everything in stride and take every blessing and just take it one day at a time.
“I can’t really worry about it now. [If] I worry about it now, it won’t do anything for me tomorrow. [I’ve] just got to let it go and whatever happens, happens. I know that I gave my best effort for it.”