Broncos Individual Player Grades for First Nine Weeks Revealed
It's safe to say that the Denver Broncos' 3-6 record is not what the team was expecting coming into the season. Not only that, but the Broncos are three defensive stops away from being 6-3, which would put them right in the thick of things for the Division.
Despite the poorer than expected start to the season, there are plenty of players that have been executing at a high level for the Broncos, but also some playing bad football.
Since Denver is on a bye week, let’s look at how players graded out over their first nine games. Unlike normal grades, there are six good, six bad and six other grades of note to analyze, plus the MVP for the first nine games in the video above.
This grading system has been honed and adapted for the last five-plus years. Each player starts with a grade of 50, and it will either get raised or lowered based on each snap and the player's impact on the play.
A cornerback on the backside of a run shedding a block will get a slight raise to their grade, but a corner shedding a block in the run path at the point of attack will get a higher raise in their grade, as they have a bigger impact on the result of the play.
Which players were playing good football despite the 3-6 start to the season? We'll start with them.
Kareem Jackson, S: 89.9
It was a struggle for the Broncos defense with Jackson banged up and still learning his role in the first quarter of the season. Once he was healthy and got his role down, the defense has looked very different. What Jackson brings to the table allows the other defenders to really focus on what they’re doing because of how reliable he is. In coverage or against the run, Jackson brings it and is part of, arguably, the best safety duo in the NFL this year.
Courtland Sutton, WR: 87.6
His sophmore year has seen Sutton take a huge step in his development. His routes are really clean and crisp, especially for a receiver with his size. He improved his route-running without sacrificing other areas of his game.
Derek Wolfe, DE: 85.4
The first few games from Wolfe were a little rough to watch. There were some struggles, as expected, in the new scheme. However, when things started to click they really clicked. Wolfe has been borderline dominant from Week 4 on, and the stunts up front have helped him look his best as a pass rusher, notching 15 total pressures, including a team-leading five sacks. This scheme is the fountain of youth for Wolfe, and he is making it hard for Denver to avoid bringing him back.
Dalton Risner, LG: 81.3
The rookie guard has allowed 10 total pressures as a pass blocker. There have been plenty of hiccups with his game, but they don’t come often. He has been the only stable piece on the offensive line for the Broncos, and a good piece for the team to build around.
Alexander Johnson, LB: 80.2
Denver is using Johnson in a great way, and he is killing it. He has picked up six pressures, and 10 stops against the run. There are still issues that need to be fixed in coverage, where he has allowed 22 of his 25 targets to be caught, but he is killing it against the run and as a pass rusher.
Phillip Lindsay, RB: 80.0
Lindsay has been hit-and-miss at times this year. His heart has never wavered, but his vision has. While the offensive line has been inconsistent as run blockers, there have been times Lindsay has missed some holes only to run into defenders. That said, he has avoided 26 tackles this season.
Corey Nelson, LB: 17.9
Getting Nelson off the field was a must. He was lost out there, slow and constantly out of position. The only thing to say about Nelson’s play was that he was completely abysmal and now he's on injured reserve.
DaeSean Hamilton, WR: 35.5
Hamilton has a specific role in the Broncos offense, and it comes as a blocker. His receiving ability has been missing, which at first could be excused, as the Broncos were still learning the offense. That excuse doesn't jive anymore. Hamilton has two drops on 21 targets with only 11 catches. His role is fine, but Denver needs more from him production-wise.
Isaac Yiadom, CB: 37.1
There isn’t much to say with Yiadom that hasn't already been said. He is a terrible scheme fit, which was made obvious early this season, and he is looking like a failed third-round pick. During his limited playtime to start the season, he allowed 16 catches on 21 targets for 178 yards. He also missed three tackles. The only good aspect to his game came as a run defender.
Elijah Wilkinson, RT: 44.8
It has been a rough season for the backup tackle, both as a run defender and as a pass blocker. He has allowed nine sacks on the season, and is the reason why the Broncos have a low rushing success rate to the right side. His play has made it clear that he isn’t a tackle, but with his issues as a run blocker, it is hard to trust him on the interior as well.
Garett Bolles, LT: 49.3
It is a major understatement to say Bolles has struggled over the last three weeks. In that span, he has 15 total pressures allowed. On the season he has only 26 pressures, so over 50% have come in 1/3 of the games the Broncos have played. The start of his season was rough with penalties, but he cleaned that up and had four weeks of really good play. However, the big question of whether he could sustain that was answered with a resounding 'no'. It seems certain that Denver will replace the tackle after the year.
Bryce Callahan, CB: N/A
Okay, so this one is a cop-out. Callahan hasn’t played, so how can he get a grade? Well, he can’t. What lands him here is that not having him on the field has hurt this defense. The Broncos are getting by without him, but they have had issues in coverage that he could have helped with.
Other Grades of Note
Todd Davis, LB: 78.9
There is a group of Broncos fans who fail to appreciate Davis and what he does for this defense. This year he has been good in coverage, allowing a 78.9 passer rating when targeted. That is tied with Carolina's Luke Kuechly for sixth-best for qualifying linebackers. Also, Davis is allowing 0.45 yards per coverage snap, which is the best in the NFL among qualifying linebackers. With no touchdowns and 107 yards allowed (NFL lowest for linebackers is 104), his play in coverage has been great. What issues that have shown up have been as a tackler with six missed tackles, which is keeping his grade from being higher.
Mike Purcell, NT: 74.3
Inserting Purcell into the starting lineup did great things for the Broncos run defense. He has a 14.5 run stop percentage over the first nine games of the season. For a guy his size, and play style, he wasn’t expected to be a quality pass rusher, but he has exceeded expectations with three pressures. Purcell needs to keep his play at the level it is, or improve, over the last seven games.
Noah Fant, TE: 60.1
Blocking has been a struggle for Fant. While he has had only 19 total pass-blocking snaps, he allowed one sack to Khalil Mack where he should have never been left alone to block. Adding this to his drops in the passing game, it has been a rough start for his career. That said, he is still on track to have one of the best years for a Broncos rookie tight end ever. On a side note, his counterpart at Iowa, T.J. Hockenson, who was considered a better blocker, has allowed two sacks and five total pressures.
Connor McGovern, C: 57.7
The center for the Broncos has been a solid pass protector and has allowed only eight total pressures all season. What issues he has had have shown up more in the running game, where he lacks any kind of consistency. The start of his season was great, but over the last three games, his play has really fallen off. Denver needs him to rebound for the final run of the season.
Shelby Harris, DE: 55.3
Starting the season with Harris as the nose tackle played a big part in two losses for the Broncos. When Denver made some switches after the loss to the Jaguars, Harris saw his play level out. He leads NFL defensive linemen with six batted passes, and has added 12 pressures. His run defense is still hit-or-miss, but he is getting better each week.
Ronald Leary, RG: 51.4
There is a lot of focus on the tackles, and rightfully so, but Leary has struggled to start the season. He has allowed 12 total pressures, and got hit with a lot of penalties. His run blocking has been solid, and he has played a huge part in some huge running lanes, but there have been consistency issues there as well. The veteran is playing solid football overall, but he has to step it up to be worth the contract he has.