While Mike Purcell hasn’t dominated the  Broncos’ news cycle, make no mistake, his contributions this season have been increasingly impactful. With an NFL career that’s been nowhere near smooth sailing, Purcell knows what it’s like to fight for a spot. On Saturday, his tackling ability will be on full display as the Denver Broncos face the best run game they’ve seen all season.

Growing up in Colorado

Mike Purcell grew up in Highlands Ranch, CO. In high school, he started as a tight end and linebacker. Purcell shifted to playing offensive line, as well as outside linebacker. As a Highlands Ranch High School football team member, he earned second-team all-state honors as a senior. Rivals.com ranked him as the No. 17 best recruit in the state of Colorado.

After high school, Purcell chose to attend the University of Wyoming. Purcell showcased his adaptability by switching to defensive tackle. Initially poised for a redshirt season, injuries in the defensive line prompted an early entry into the field six games in. 

Purcell started in all 12 games the following season, collecting 57 total tackles and forcing a fumble. Despite a brief setback due to injury, he played in all but one game and collected 48 total tackles and two sacks.

He shined the brightest in his senior year. Purcell received first-team All-Mountain West Conference recognition after amassing 83 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles.

At Wyoming, Purcell played 42 games, starting in 36 starts. He finished his collegiate career with 197 total tackles (74 solo), four sacks, three forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. 

Bumpy Road to the NFL

Despite a strong three years in college, Mike Purcell didn’t receive an invite to the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine and went undrafted. Post-draft, he joined the San Francisco 49ers as an undrafted free agent, spending his rookie year on the practice squad.

In Year 2, Purcell spent the first 14 weeks of the season on San Francisco’s practice squad before signing to the active roster in Week 16. Purcell played in the season’s final two games and recorded one tackle.

His subsequent two seasons saw action in 23 games, eight as a starter, tallying 41 tackles (28 solo), one sack, and a forced fumble. Despite signing a one-year deal in 2017, the 49ers released him in May.

In just eight months, Purcell had brief stints with the Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Bears, Carolina Panthers, and New England Patriots. He finally landed with the Kansas City Chiefs, signing a future/reserve contract in January 2018. After a few more cuts and re-signings, he was released for the final time in September.

The entirety of 2018 passed without Purcell finding a team. In 2019, he played for the Salt Lake Stallions in the AAF. This caught the eye of the Denver Broncos, where his former defensive coordinator, Vic Fangio, was now head coach. 

A strong preseason secured Purcell a spot on Denver’s final roster in 2020, leading to a three-year extension. Unfortunately, a season-ending injury cut short his promising start. His return in 2021 saw a significant decline. After restructuring his contract in 2022, the Broncos released him during the final roster cuts, though he was immediately re-signed. This pattern repeated in 2023, as he was once more cut from the team, only to be swiftly brought back into the fold.

Purcell has been an underrated factor in the Broncos’ defensive turnaround this season. According to Pro Football Focus, he’s only missed two tackles since Week 3. 

In order for the Broncos to beat the Detroit Lions, ranked fifth in rushing, on Saturday, the defense must contain their run game as much as possible. It’s a huge opportunity for Purcell, who’s in the final year of his contract, to prove that he’s got plenty left in the tank.