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Friday, December 8, 2023

Russell Wilson off to a good start in 2023

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QB Russell Wilson

Wilson threw three touchdowns on 75% completions and played turnover-free Sunday against Chicago. He was sacked five times in the second half against Washington in Week 2, but has been sacked just six more times in Denver’s other seven halves, including once Sunday. That brought his sack rate to 7.6% for the year (10.2% last year). Through four weeks Wilson is tied with Buffalo’s Josh Allen for third in the NFL in passer rating (106.7) and is fourth in EPA/play among quarterbacks. It appears Wilson each week continues to get more and more comfortable playing for Sean Payton. Pretty good stuff so far for No. 3.

K Wil Lutz

Lutz missed a field goal and an extra point Week 1 against Las Vegas in a one-point loss, but he’s been rock solid since. Sunday he made easily his biggest kick as a Bronco, knocking home a 51-yard, go-ahead field goal in the closing minutes. A good response from a veteran who struggled in New Orleans in 2022. There are more close games ahead, and Lutz will continue to have a say in how those swing.

OLB Nik Bonitto

Bonitto’s not a perfect player. He’s been targeted in the running game the past three weeks. But he also plays hard. He makes mistakes fast and he gets to the quarterback fast. Sunday’s  2.5-sack outing is his best yet as a pro and the strip of Justin FIelds that led to Jonathon Cooper’s scoop-and-score is the biggest play Bonitto’s made. He started over Randy Gregory on Sunday and likely will remain ahead of him going forward. He should. He’s got 3.5 sacks and four TFLs so far through four games.

RB Jaleel McLaughlin

McLaughlin’s a touchdown machine. He scored again on an 18-yard screen pass that featured a dynamite cut through a seam maybe nobody else on the roster sees, let alone hits. The undrafted rookie had 104 scrimmage yards (72 rushing) on 10 touches. McLaughlin had four touchdowns in three preseason games and now has two in the regular season on 17 offensive touches. He’s got juice. He’s not the pass protector that Javonte Williams (hip injury Sunday) or Samaje Perine is, so he might not become the overnight every-down back for Denver. But he’s got to play more. What are the odds he leads the backfield in total yards this year? Increasing by the day.

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OLB Randy Gregory

Gregory had zero tackles against Miami and then found himself as the third in a three-man rotation against Chicago. When the chips were down late in the game, Bonitto and Cooper played and Gregory watched. He could slide even further down the depth chart when Baron Browning returns from a knee injury — he’s eligible to this week. Gregory hasn’t looked explosive so far this year and might be still trying to get comfortable after knee issues last year. But it hasn’t looked great so far. Gregory’s in the second season of a five-year deal worth up to $70 million, but he’s not overly difficult to part ways with after 2023, especially with a post-June 1 designation. He’s probably playing for his future over the coming weeks.

Pass defense

The first-half numbers the past two weeks are preposterous. Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa and Chicago’s Justin Fields combined to go 32-of-33 for 437 yards and five touchdowns in their respective opening 30 minutes against Denver. Granted, Denver harassed Fields and then turned him over twice in the second half, but even still. The Broncos are getting rolled through the air, allowing an NFL-high 73.5% completions and a league-worst 13 passing TDs so far. Zach Wilson and the Jets are up next, but then Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City twice in 17 days.

TE Adam Trautman

Trautman plays a lot and does some dirty work for the Broncos. But he’s also being asked to be a full-on No. 1 tight end, and the production hasn’t matched the role so far. He didn’t have a catch against Chicago and has five for 34 yards on the year. Nate Adkins and Chris Manhertz have more limited roles. Greg Dulcich is eligible to return against the Chiefs in Week 6. It’s a group the Broncos need to get more out of overall going forward.

Nickel Essang Bassey

Bassey lost his job Sunday to second-year man Ja’Quan McMillian. Bassey had a nice training camp and the coaching staff knows that Bassey knows what he’s supposed to do. He’s just struggled both tackling and in coverage over the first three weeks. McMillian acquitted himself OK over 43 snaps. The Broncos could really use K’Waun Williams back soon from an ankle injury. He’s eligible to return from injured reserve this week but has appeared to be a bit behind safety P.J. Locke and Browning in terms of running intensity on the side field during practice.

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