The Denver Broncos have two preseason games under their belt. Training camp, or at least the portion open to the fans, ends following Tuesday’s practice.
From there, the Broncos will host the San Francisco 49ers in which the two teams will hold joint-practice sessions ahead of their preseason bout on Monday night at Mile High. This year, because the Broncos were tapped to play the Hall of Fame Game, the team will play five preseason games.
That means the coaches will have a larger sample size by which to evaluate depth players. Through those first two games, we’ve seen some quality performances by the backups, and some others that have been cringe-worthy.
Here are the top-10 backups from either the Broncos’ second- or third-team units who’ve shined brightest since the preseason opener.
Drew Lock, QB
Lock got out to a less-than-stellar start in the HoFG, though he wasn’t exactly bad going 7-of-11. In Game 2 vs. Seattle, though, Lock took a few leaps forward in his development.
He made five high-quality throws that night and also tossed his first NFL touchdown pass. His performance was still uneven but the arrow is trending upward in terms of Lock’s stock. After the game, I pinpointed five specific areas Lock showed improvement in Game 2 (see video above).
Follow what NFL teams do, not what they say. What the Broncos have done since Lock’s performance in Game 2 is give him exclusive second-team reps, while Kevin Hogan has seemingly been demoted to scout team (fourth-string).
Malik Reed, OLB
Through two preseason games, Reed leads the Broncos with two sacks. He’s been a constant force as a pass rusher and has acquitted himself well against the run.
The Broncos have been so pleased with Reed’s performance that they cut the incumbent Jeff Holland over the weekend. Reed now has a wider path to the roster but the undrafted rookie will have to keep the pedal to the metal.
Isaac Yiadom, CB
Yiadom brings 6-foot-1 length to the Broncos’ cornerback corps and he’s used his size and physicality through two games. He’s been aggressive in coverage, smothering opponents and even broke up a pass on third down vs. Seattle.
He’s never going to win with speed in a straight line but Yiadom will disrupt the timing of the route by jamming the opposing receiver and redirecting him. The Broncos have been hoping to see Yiadom make a quantum leap in year two and the early returns are encouraging.
De’Vante Bausby, CB
Yiadom’s second-team parter has also been impressive at times this summer. We’ve seen how quickly Bausby breaks on the ball, which has led to a couple of pass break-ups.
Both Yiadom and Bausby are aggressive, and thus need to beware of double-moves, which saw both get burned in the Seattle game by rookie first-round WR D.K. Metcalf. Fortunately, the Seahawks were unable to complete either.
One other aspect of Bausby’s game that has pleasantly surprised me is his willingness to swarm up and make the tackle. That’s a trait that is ‘non-negotiable’ to head coach and defensive play-caller Vic Fangio.
Alexander Johnson, ILB
With injuries ahead of him on the depth chart, Johnson has seen a lot of snaps in both preseason contests. While I wasn’t as impressed with his first game, in Seattle Johnson played very well, especially against the run.
The 6-foot-2, 245-pound Johnson is great at flying downhill, filling the gap and making the tackle. Getting him moving laterally, though, he lumbers and isn’t quite as effective, which brings up concerns in coverage. Only time will tell how big of a concern that will be for him.
Khalfani Muhammad, RB
Muhammad had a great Game 1, leading the Broncos in scrimmage yards and scoring a touchdown on the ground. He looked quick and explosive against Atlanta.
Alas, he was unable to carry that momentum forward into Game 2. Against Seattle, he also failed to pick up a blitzing linebacker in pass protection, which led to a sack on Drew Lock for a safety.
However, Muhammad has been one of the Broncos’ bright spots on the backup units thus far. He’s got a spot on the practice squad earmarked at this point.
Elijah Wilkinson, OT
Wilkinson has been the only consistent backup offensive linemen through two games. Playing as Garett Bolles’ backup at left tackle, Wilkinson has been good in pass protection and a mauler in the run game.
The Broncos went into the summer with some serious questions about their lack of a swing tackle. But Wilkinson’s performance thus far has assuaged those concerns.
Juwann Winfree, WR
In Game 1, Winfree dropped a pass in the first quarter that would have moved the chains on an otherwise aborted drive. He redeemed himself late by making an acrobatic touchdown grab to win the HoFG.
In Seattle, he was quiet all night until the clutch. With the Broncos having just closed the Seahawks’ lead margin from 16 to 10 points, Drew Lock threaded the needle on a two-point try, targeting Winfree. The rookie sixth-rounder not only caught the ball, but held onto it while taking a sandwich-style double-shot from the Seahawks DBs. Conversion attempt good!
I’d like to see better consistency from Winfree, in terms of making plays throughout the game, not just late, but some players have the knack for flipping the switch and playing their best when the chips are down. That’s an unteachable trait.
Trinity Benson, WR
Benson’s first game was relatively quiet but he hauled in a deep pass from Lock in Game 2 that required him to go up and get the ball, while still finding a way to keep his feet in bounds. It was an impressive catch.
Benson brings some vertical speed and twitchiness to the table for the Broncos. I’d like to see OC Rich Scangarello make Benson more of a point of emphasis in these next three games. He brings unique attributes to the table that need to be better explored by the team, including as a returner on special teams.
DeMarcus Walker/Dre’Mont Jones, DE
I include both Walker and Jones here because both young D-linemen had an impressive opener, only to come up short in Game 2. Walker notched a sack vs. Atlanta and was a consistent force rushing the passer, while Jones pressured the Falcons’ QB and forced an interception that helped the Broncos storm back to win.
Alas, they both kind of disappeared in Game 2, with Jones getting called for defensive holding twice. The two flags Jones drew were ticky-tack and likely wouldn’t get called in the regular season. But it’s an issue to monitor.
Jones’ path to the roster, as a 2019 third-round pick, is secure. Walker’s, on the other hand, remains in doubt, even though he’s a former second-round pick of Denver’s (2017). Walker has been unable to make an impact or even see consistent playing time since joining the Broncos two years ago and with how much talent the team has on the D-line, this might be his last shot to prove himself, and to a new coaching staff no less.
Follow Chad on Twitter @ChadNJensen.