The Denver Broncos confidently cruised past the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday night, but as always, the team had it’s fair share of shortcomings, and there were players that stood out from the rest.

Who were these stars and what were these areas of concern?

Let’s take a look in this first in-season edition of the Broncos Stock Report.

Who’s Rising for the Denver Broncos?

Depth Wide Receivers

Ever since Tim Patrick suffered his season-ending ACL injury, the Denver Broncos knew they were going to need some depth receivers to step up for them in a major way, and they got a glimpse of exactly that against the Dallas Cowboys.

Seth Williams made a huge impression by reeling in a number of difficult catches. His baseball slide for a 19-yard gain on a poor pass from Josh Johnson. It was the biggest play of the first quarter. Williams also scored the team’s first touchdown, with a contested catch on a corner route that infantilized the opposing defender.

Kendall Hinton also had a very promising game. He started things off with a drop, though that miscue seemed to be more the blame of Johnson’s shoddy accuracy. After that, he was lights out. Hinton reeled in the Broncos’ second touchdown on a hyper-acrobatic grab in the back corner of the endzone and made another circus-act catch towards the end of the first half to help set up a critical field goal drive.

Brandon Johnson also helped set up that critical field goal drive, but the moment that will stand out the most was the impressive grab he made down the sidelines in tight coverage. Johnson was interfered with on the play (an illegal contact penalty that would be declined) and shook it off to make what was the biggest play of the first half. Plus, when he left the game, he was the team’s leading receiver, with 64 yards on four receptions.

Jalen Virgil was quick to pass Johnson by in the second half though, with a bevy of explosive plays, courtesy of Brett Rypien. While Denver’s offense went dormant, Virgil refused to, tallying an impressive 83 yards on just three receptions.

Lastly, we have to mention Montrell Washington, who didn’t do much on offense, but was a breath of fresh air on special teams. On two punt returns, Washington averaged 21.5 yards per return, which is phenomenal. Last year there was only player (minimum two punt returns) with a better punt return average. Obviously, the sample size is minuscule, but you can’t ask him to do much more as a return man.

Depth Edge Rushers

Before Saturday night, Broncos Country had no idea how Baron Browning and Nik Bonitto would look on the edge. Now, after finally seeing it in action, they have to feel optimistic about their prospects there.

Browning was a one-man wrecking crew against the Cowboys. Not only did he create solid pressure on the quarterback a number of times and tally a huge sack, but he was also a force against the run. In fact, on the very first play of the game, Browning came up with a tackle for loss on a rushing play. The only blemish on his performance was the few times he overpursued on play action and the one time he hopped offsides.

Nik Bonitto didn’t have quite as impressive a day as Browning, but he also showed growth as a run-defender, which was something he needed to prove in order to earn more playing time.

Malik Reed also carried over his strong training camp performance into the preseason, which was nice to see, and Jonathan Kongbo was the only other edge-rusher to record a quarterback hit other than Browning.

P.J. Locke

In a safety room loaded with talent, P.J. Locke is sometimes overlooked, but that’s a grand disservice to one of the NFL’s better backup safeties.

Locke is a player the Denver Broncos can rely on as a depth piece, and he’s a valuable special teams contributor as well.

He flashed both those skills on an early interception, where he perfectly read Cooper Rush to get an easy interception in what was one of the game’s most pivotal plays.

Matt Henningsen

A rookie that hasn’t gotten a ton of shine in camp but lit up his first preseason game was sixth-round pick Matt Henningsen.

Henningsen has made splash plays consistently in camp, but due to the nature of his position, hasn’t gotten too much attention for it. However, it was impossible to ignore him tonight.

Early on, Henningsen got a wide-open shot at Rush, and took it, helping to create Locke’s interception opportunity. Then, in the second half, Henningsen recorded 0.5 sacks and would’ve made it 1.5, had he not attempted to tackle DiNucci too high.

Nonetheless, it showed off Henningsen’s natural ability to create penetration along the line.

Who’s Falling?

Coaching Decisions

Don’t worry, you won’t see us analyzing fourth down decisions or anything during the preseason, as getting those players those situational reps is important, but some of the decisions in regard to player health and safety were concerning.

Jonas Griffith suffered a seemingly serious elbow injury on one of the first plays of the game, and one can easily make the argument he shouldn’t have been playing. Griffith was the unquestioned starter alongside Josey Jewell at this point in the offseason, and inside linebacker might be the most shallow position group on the entire Denver Broncos roster.

Considering he’s a valuable starter without a quality backup, why is he playing?

Now the Broncos will have to rely on Alex Singleton — Pro Football Focus’ very worst coverage linebacker in all of football last season — heavily until Griffith returns.


Second, is the case of Baron Browning.

Browning had a remarkable showing throughout the first half, as previously mentioned, and he’s a valuable piece to the defense. That was even more true after Jonas Griffith went down, as Denver might need extra inside linebacker depth now. There was no need to play him in the second half.

However, despite all that, Browning was playing snaps into the fourth quarter of the game.

It appears this was the result of a lack of depth at EDGE, but if you don’t have enough healthy edge-rushers to play a preseason game without unnecessary risk of injury to key contributors, you need to sign more and that’s a fact that should’ve been known well before the game.

It’s not the end of the world, but it was a concerning and seemingly needless gamble.

Josh Johnson

Yes, he closed the end of the half strong, but as mentioned before, he got a ton of help from his wide receivers, who hauled in jaw-dropping catch after jaw-dropping catch, making Johnson’s end-of-half box score.

We’re not having the Josh Johnson rebound conversation if Hinton, Williams, and Brandon Johnson don’t make a series of insane grabs, as his stat line wouldn’t have rebounded and he certainly wouldn’t have led the Denver Broncos on three scoring drives.

With that said, the main reason Johnson is here is because of how he opened the game.

Johnson almost looked like a jumpy rookie, nervous for his first start, with how he sailed passes over his receivers and consistently delivered poorly placed passes.

His first pass of the game was a smoke screen to Montrell Washington that left him out to dry and nearly skipped off the ground on his way to the waiting receiver. His second pass attempt was an ugly interception that was undone by a defensive penalty. Two of his next three passes were also hideous, as he threw a contested pass well behind the other Johnson on third down, and then forced Williams to make a baseball slide to catch that was so low and behind him, that the referees initially ruled it incomplete, before discussing amongst themselves.

It would be one thing if this was a preseason mirage, but instead, it confirmed everything we had at camp — a shoddy, uncomfortable, and inaccurate backup that will not be able to guide the Broncos through even a short absence from Wilson. Denver appears to have one of the league’s lesser backup quarterbacks.

Running Backs

The Denver Broncos running backs were very disappointing Saturday night against the Dallas Cowboys.

Mike Boone has been tearing it up all throughout camp but was a dud in the first preseason game. On three carries, Boone combined to lose one yard, and on his only target, he had the pass bounce off his fingers — though Johnson did throw the pass just outside his strike zone.

Max Borghi had also been a training camp bright spot, but he was limited to nine all-purpose yards on five touches.

In the second half, the Broncos finally got something going on the ground, but it was still pretty ineffective.

JaQuan Hardy gained 13 yards on five carries and gained eight more through the air on two receptions. 21 yards on seven touches is still pretty abhorrent though.

Stevie Scott III was the most effective running back, gaining 20 yards on six carries, but he also had a grisly drop by the goal line that should have been an easy score.