Depending on who you ask in the national media, the Denver Broncos are either a sleeper who could surprise the NFL in 2020 or they're literally not worth even mentioning as a darkhorse. At the local level, having experienced the depredations the Broncos have suffered over the last four seasons, and seeing how the front office has rebuilt so quickly, many of us who cover the team daily recognize the teeming talent on this roster and its subsequent potential.
As a roster, the Broncos only sent two players to the Pro Bowl last year — Von Miller and Courtland Sutton. That's what a 7-9 season, on the heels of a 5-11 and 6-10 campaign back-to-back will do — losing smothers individuals' potential for accolades.
What that means, though, is that there are several players on the Broncos roster that are underrated. Even Sutton, who played in the NFL's all-star game earlier this year, is actually underrated in the national media.
But going beyond Sutton and Miller, who are the most underrated players in Denver? Sports Illustrated's Conor Orr went through all 32 NFL teams to tap the player he views as the most underrated and his selection for the Broncos was... curious, to say the least.
Garett Bolles, T
I may be in the minority here, but I think it’s noteworthy that Pro Football Focus noted a year over year improvement each season for Bolles and, despite Denver’s lack of confidence (they declined his fifth-year option), he is above replacement level at the tackle position and that is hard to find. Pro Football Focus graded Bolles as the 14th best run blocker and 19th best pass blocker among all qualifying tackles, which, again, in this market is not easy to find. Would you rather deal with Bolles and continue to ride this slower-than-desired ascension, or spend a pair of first-round picks on someone like Laremy Tunsil, who is better, but not two first-round picks better?
I hate finding myself so consistently at odds with SI's national NFL voices but once again, I have to pick a bone with Orr's take here. Look, on one hand, I can agree that on some level, Garett Bolles is underrated. Or at least underappreciated.
But to say that Bolles is the most underrated player on the Broncos roster? Yeah, nah. Allow me to list five Broncos more deserving of such a distinction.
Todd Davis, LB: Davis doesn't move the needle as a coverage linebacker but he is one of the best run-stuffing 'backers in the NFL and he rarely misses tackles. Throw in the fact that he's a firebrand leader and it's safe to say that he's underrated. In the four years since he took over as a starter, he's averaged 106 tackles per season. Yet, Davis is hard-pressed to garner love from many Broncos fans and is ignored by the national perspective.
Shelby Harris, DL: In two of the three seasons Harris has spent in Denver, he's finished in the top-3 on the team in sacks. In his first year (2017), he finished second behind only Miller with 5.5 sacks and last year he came in third with six. It's important to remember that Harris' pass-rushing production comes as an interior D-lineman, which makes it all the more impressive. He thought he'd be worth more on the open market than what he found, which shows just how underrated Harris is.
Phillip Lindsay, RB: I know that Lindsay earned a Pro Bowl nod for his whirlwind rookie season but for a running back who's produced back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons, his national profile is surprisingly low. National voices, when speaking of the Broncos' rushing attack, don't really focus on Lindsay but instead, are wont to mention Melvin Gordon. Gordon has five NFL seasons, while Lindsay has two. Gordon has just one 1,000-yard rushing campaign as a former first-round pick. Lindsay has two in as many years and went undrafted. Lindsay is egregiously underrated, maybe even by his own team.
Kareem Jackson, DB: He's only been in Denver one year, but is there any justifiable reason Jackson wasn't elected to the Pro Bowl last year? He posted 71 tackles (48 solo) with two interceptions, one forced fumble, and one defensive touchdown. It was enough to land him as a Pro Bowl alternate but Jackson played inspired football in his first year as a Bronco. Before you mention his two-game DUI suspension to close out the season as any sort of disqualifier for the Pro Bowl, understand that PED suspension are the ones that automatically remove a player from all-star eligibility in the same season.
Alexander Johnson, LB: It might be a harder sell to call Johnson underrated because he only has one season as a starer under his belt, but I'd argue with you on the subject. Why? Because he established himself as an elite run-defending LB from Week 5 on last year. Johnson would finish his first season as a starter as the fourth highest-graded LB in the entire NFL per Pro Football Focus. He's another Bronco who, had the team been a winner, would likely have found himself garnering individual accolades. If Johnson keeps it going in 2020, he's a lock for the NFL's all-star game.
Back to Bolles
There is an argument to be made that Bolles is underrated. But the most underrated Bronco? I don't see it. And I'm guessing you don't see it either, dear reader.