The first half of the Sean Payton era has not gone how he or the Denver Broncos have hoped for. With the second half of the schedule coming up after this well-needed bye week, which players surprised through the first eight weeks?

Denver Broncos Mid-Season Report

At 3-5, the Denver Broncos prepare for a massive second-half stretch of the schedule as they hope to finish better than they started. The emergence of various young players have contributed to some promising developments to watch for in this next stretch of the season.

Denver Broncos undrafted rookie Jaleel McLaughlin shines

So far this season, the Denver Broncos have received significant contributions from a variety of young players. As the team moves forward, this promising development could help them set the foundation for the future.

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises has been the consistency of undrafted rookie free agent Jaleel McLaughlin. The electrifying rookie rusher has contributed massively to some of Denver’s success.

With more emphasis on the run game being established, McLaughlin was very efficient in the first half of the season. According to Pro Football Reference, the Broncos rookie rusher has 98 total snaps this season, accounting for 20% of the team’s offensive snaps.

In that sample size, he has 38 total carries for 268 yards, averaging 7.1 yards per carry, and one rushing touchdown. In the receiving game, he has 12 catches on 14 targets for 65 yards and two receiving touchdowns.

For 98 total snaps, when the ball touches Jaleel’s hands, good things happen. In the second half of the season, it’s imperative that Sean Payton finds more ways to incorporate him in combination with Javonte Williams.

Broncos getting big contributions from several young players

Not only has McLaughlin been impressive, but a handful of other young players have stepped up as well this season.

Players like nickel cornerback Ja’Quan McMillian, outside linebackers Jonathon Cooper, Baron Browning, and rookie wide receiver Marvin Mims are others who have stood out.

McMillian emerged as the starter after K’Waun Williams’ foot injury sidelined him. He’s been impressive in coverage and has been consistent against the run, serving as another line of defense that has helped Denver’s run defense improve.

In just five games, McMillian has come up big as a tackler, accounting for 23 tackles, two passes defensed, and one interception. He very well may have locked up his spot as a potential building block at the position if he continues on his current trajectory.

Cooper and Bonitto emerged into the defense’s dynamic starting duo, and both players possess growth traits that could put them onto a path of stardom. Between the two of them, they’ve combined for 10 sacks and 26 pressures through the first eight weeks of the season.

Adding in a healthy Browning makes Denver’s edge rusher group even more effective. In just two games played since returning from knee surgery, Browning has four pressures and two sacks, including a very effective performance against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 8 that helped them secure a crucial win.

Will Sean Payton find a way to maximize Marvin Mims?

Rookie wide receiver Marvin Mims has been electrifying when used, but Sean Payton’s lack of utilizing him has been a puzzling development. Not only has Mims been impactful at times in the passing game, but his speed and return ability have given Denver a dynamic that makes them dangerous on special teams as well.

Currently, Mims is averaging 20.3 yards per punt return and 34.0 yards per return on kick return attempts. His vision and speed have been a positive dynamic for Denver’s vastly improved special teams unit.

Getting back to the offensive side of the ball, Mims has only played 30% of the team’s offensive snaps this season. He has 11 catches on 14 targets for 246 yards and doesn’t have a single drop.

30% of the snaps have been a consistent issue, but even when he’s on the field, he’s averaging nearly one target a game, which has usually come on an attempted screen play.

On his Monday conference call, Payton noted that he’s got to find ways to get Mims the ball even more in the second half of the season.

“I don’t think we’ve hit the second half of the season yet, but I think I know what your question is, and it’s a good question,” Payton said. “It’s certainly a fair question. How do we get [WR] Marvin [Mims] more touches, and how do we incorporate him more into what we’re doing offensively? I’m sitting here looking at a notepad with his jersey number on it in front of me. That’s our job as coaches. We really believe we have a good young talented player. Obviously, there are other players on the offense that deserve the same type of attention relative to play design. We’re going to work our tails off to move that needle where he’s getting opportunities, not only in the passing game. He just does a lot of things well, and he’s really good with the ball in his hands.”

If Mims can see more volume-based targets in the passing game, Denver’s offense could find even more balance as they look to make a strong second-half run.