The Denver Broncos can breathe a sigh of relief. The preseason is finally over after the Broncos knocked off the Minnesota Vikings 23-13 in the Game 3 finale.
The Broncos bounced back in a big way after their embarrassing performance the game before in Buffalo. This team played with intensity and want-to, assuaging some of the concerns about head coach Nathaniel Hackett in the fan base.
One of the reasons the Broncos were likely much livelier in Game 3 was the fact that the players knew this was their last shot at earning a roster spot. It turns out that job security has a measurable effect on performance.
The Broncos have to whittle the 80-man roster down to the final 53 by 2 pm MDT on Tuesday. We could start to see cuts start trickling out as soon as Sunday.
That said, who were the biggest winners and losers from the Broncos’ preseason finale? Let’s get to it.
Winner: Brett Rypien QB
While it was far from perfect, Rypien piggybacked a modestly impressive body of work on top of his Game 2 performance. Against the Vikings, he went 14-of-21 for 137 yards with an interception and a passer rating of 65.0.
Those numbers would have looked drastically different had his goal-line pass to KJ Hamler not been tipped, where it was easily plucked out of the air for an interception. It wasn’t a great throw, and the defender made a nice play to deflect it, but that was the luck of the draw.
Rypien’s offense has scored more points this preseason than his competitor for the Broncos’ QB2 job. He’s a winner coming out of Game 3.
Loser: Josh Johnson | QB
Johnson went 11-of-14 for 107 yards with a passer rating of 98.5, but it availed the Broncos’ offense little. He seemed to be slightly more on-target than Rypien but far less effective in terms of the offense staying on schedule.
Rypien also connected with a receiver on a 45-yard bomb in the first half. We didn’t see much of an aggressive mindset from Johnson.
It feels like Rypien has won this job but it’s by no means absolute. The margin between these two QBs is razor-thin.
Winner: Broncos Run Game
Finally, we saw signs of life from Coach Hackett’s rushing attack. As a team, the Broncos rushed for 148 yards on 25 attempts (5.9 avg).
Leading the way to open the game was Mike Boone, who looked explosive and oozed desire. It was nice to see newcomer Devine Ozigbo lead the team in rushing with 13 carries for 59 yards.
JaQuan Hardy wasn’t bad either with 23 yards on four carries. The Broncos’ O-line was a big reason for the rushing game coming alive.
Now fans can believe that the first-teamers can implement the rushing attack to even greater success.
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Winner(s): Kana’i Mauga & Jeremiah Gemmel | ILB
The Broncos’ off-ball linebackers looked way better against the Vikings. There were a few missed tackles but credit to Alex Singleton and Justin Strnad for leading the way.
However, Mauga, an undrafted rookie out of Utah, was eye-openingly good. He was a whirling dervish, flying all over the field, finishing with four tackles (three solo). Mauga might not have won a roster spot but he’s getting re-signed to the practice squad.
Gemmel, a newcomer dubbed ‘The General,’ was also impressive in his small sample size. He also finished with four tackles (three) solo on the night. Broncos Country feels much better about its off-ball linebacker depth after Game 3.
Winners: McTelvin Agim (DL) & Nick Bonitto (OLB)
Both Agim and Bonitto had been maligned entering the finale. While there’s never been a question that Bonitto will make the roster as a rookie second-rounder, Agim’s outlook has been very cloudy.
These two young Broncos answered the bell on Saturday night in a big bad way. Agim notched a sack and forced two fumbles, one of which was scooped up and returned to the house by Baron Browning.
Meanwhile, not to be outdone in the strip-sack department, Bonitto led the Broncos with two QB takedowns, one of which was a forced fumble. It was a very encouraging performance by two young Broncos badly in need of some cache.
Will it be enough to save Agim come cut-down time? I think so, as a 2020 third-round pick, but time will tell.
Winner: Seth Williams WR
With Brandon Johnson suffering a high-ankle sprain blocking on the first play from scrimmage, Williams had a golden opportunity — if he could capitalize. It’s safe to say that Williams did just that, leading the team with four receptions on five targets for 68 yards.
Williams was the recipient of the aforementioned 45-yard bomb from Rypien. I’ve got Williams, a 2021 sixth-round pick, making this roster.
Loser: Jalen Virgil | WR
Although he finished second on the team with four receptions on five targets for 58 yards, Virgil was a loser on the night because he botched the opening kickoff, inadvertently pinning the Broncos on their own 3-yard line. There’s no doubt that Virgil has a place with this team, but the foibles of Game 3 might see him get exposed to the waiver wire.
If he passes through waivers, the Broncos will almost certainly re-sign him to the practice squad.
Loser: Kendall Hinton | WR
Kendall Hinton has been viewed as a near-lock to make the roster by many in the media, but outside of Game 1, he’s failed to make an impact. That trend continued in Game 3, with him finishing the game with zero receptions on one target, despite playing 56% of the Broncos’ offensive snaps.
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Hinton was supposed to be this team’s ‘reliable’ punt returner, but his decision-making in that department has been suspect. Meanwhile, guys like Montrell Washington and Williams have shined.
Who wins that sixth and final wide receiver spot on the Broncos’ roster? It’ll probably be Hinton, although he has zero momentum right now. If Tyrie Cleveland weren’t injured, Hinton would be on the cutting room floor.
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